Sovereign Grace’s To Be Like Jesus is a worship album aimed at kids aged 6-10 on the theme of the fruit of the Spirit & created recognising that many children in that age range who will gather in church to sing these songs may not yet be born again. It’s a tough assignment but then Sovereign Grace have a highly gifted pool of songwriters & vocalists & a strong commitment to doctrinal purity & excellent products. Can they pull it off? After listening the title track you would have to conclude, yes they can!
Playfully wrong-footing you with an opening chorus of nasal sounding kids before being rescued by a blast of drums, the track is a breakneck Blink 182-inspired rocker. Matching the target audience perfectly, it barrels along till verse 2 brings it screeching to a halt, then, rebooted by a crazy drumfill, it rushes off again like 6 year old on his second sugar rush of the day. It fits the Sovereign Grace M.O. too – in two short verses and a chorus we get the gospel, the fruit of the Spirit and the connection that having the fruit of the Spirit means Christlikeness. And all wrapped up in a tune that’s catchier than swine flu. I have yet to play this song to a child who didn’t immediately sing, dance, jump or all three.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that the album then ambles along in a blandly inoffensive way for a few more songs before the wheels come off the wagon altogether. Whether it’s kid-unfriendly abstract lyrics, (“here I am tied I knots”, “[love] gives it’s place in line”) arrangements that can’t make up their mind what style they’re trying to be in or simply too much that’s mid-tempo, middle of the road & frankly middle-aged, most of the remaining tracks collapse under the weight of their own good intentions, each one making the title track seem more like an accidental home run.
There is plenty to praise on the rest of the album. Make Me Faithful goes a long way towards recapturing the opener’s pop-punk mojo. Bob Kauflin’s beautiful piano & cello backed ballad Peace would hold it’s own on any ‘adult’ worship album. The playing is uniformly excellent throughout (in a genre where shoddy karaoke-style tracks are the norm) & Sovereign Grace deserve kudos for providing embedded backing tracks and chord charts for all the songs at no extra charge. But it’s such a shame that among the moments of greatness lurk episodes of toe-curling horror. The rap/chant of Nothing Better Than Jesus sounds like an army of mini-clones proclaiming “presents and birthdays – Jesus is better!” (Surely unsaved kids would be more inclined to sing, “Hallelujah, I’ve been washed in the blood!” than that?) & You Show Me Kindness is so sickly sweet it would make Barney The Dinosaur sound like Snoop Dogg.
It’s a tough job writing for kids. Even tougher writing worship songs for those on their way to faith. And limiting yourself to a particular theme, especially when some aspects (kindness, gentleness) are hard to get your teeth into isn’t easy either. So to attempting everything in one album feels incredibly ambitious.
Having a couple of kids of my own in the target range and teaching lots more every week I also feel that musically the CD seems overly shaped by adult sensibilities. Adults want a lot of variety and depth. Young kids prize the immediate & have little need for too much musical diversity. Perhaps a ratio of 9 to 1, high-energy rock (or urban hip-hop) to slower tracks would have been better. I’d venture to say that if most adults don’t find an album like this too loud, too frenetic and too repetitive you haven’t quite hit your target market!
Bottom line. Download the title track and treat yourself to any one of the other great Sovereign Grace albums.
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