Music Review: Liberated by Zealand

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Updated May 29, 2018
Music Review: Liberated by Zealand
Zealand - End Of The World (Official Lyric Video)
Zealand - Spirit Sing (Official Lyric Video)

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The energetic, pop/alt-rock-infused project is fueled by the title-track, “Liberated,” which sets the overall tone of the recording. “The heart behind this album is to see people—from the earliest age possible—get liberated from the things that hold them back and weigh them down,” Joel says. “We want people to get free, excited about life and embrace the vision and adventure God has for each one of us.”

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Liberated by Zealand
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It's highly likely that the name Zealand doesn't really mean much to you. Hopefully, for serious Christian music fans, the name Phil Joel will mean something, probably not from his solo work, but from his time as the guitarist for that small little band that no-one heard of called Newsboys! Yes, in the height of their Peter Furler years Phil Joel was the band's bass player and now he has re-emerged on the Christian music scene and already causing a bit of a stir with his new group Zealand. After 13 years in Newsboys God directed him towards leading worship at youth conferences, despite never seeing himself as a worship leader. This time changed his perspective about how music can bring people into God's presence. After a couple of years of the band being together and working where God has called them they feel it's time to launch into the world properly. After a soft-launch with an EP a couple of years ago, they have now launched their debut album called "Liberated" and they are currently opening on tour alongside his old band mates with Newsboys United.

Due to his new focus and the work the band have been doing until now this release is firmly in the worship market. The band was going to call themselves Zealand Worship, but dropped the worship part prior to their first EP release. "Spirit Sing" kicks off the album and for the most part it is a fairly standard worship track and it was also their first single from this project. Some of the lyrics sound slightly familiar, almost Matt Redman-esque at times. There is also a familiarity in parts of the melody, especially with the backing, but this is more because it echoes some of Joel's work with Newsboys.

The title track comes next and "Liberated" reminds me of the story of the paralysed man brought before Jesus, he is told to take up his bed and walk. This is echoed here, we are simply told our sins are forgiven - we have to choose to trust this and get up and walk in that freedom. For me the simplicity of this recurring idea that is worth celebrating brings this song to life, along with what is quite a catchy refrain! Not every song on this album is an instant winner. The next track "Center Of It All" doesn't quite take off, but it's a nice reminder of how we can trust in God for our lives. Another track that doesn't quite do it for me is "Land of the Living", it sounds like a lot of other worship songs, that's not to say there is no value in it though. When you compare this track to the depth and understated quality of "Deeper Waters" or the celebration of the relationship captured in "Beloved" then it doesn't quite carry it's weight on this album.

"End Of The World" is a slow-burn track that is a cry out to God to move in and through this generation of worshippers. There is something about it that reminds me of Delirious? "Find Me In The River", but I think it's more the theme of waiting than anything musical. Possibly the band decided to save the best until last as we arrive at the interestingly titled track "Garden's On Fire". This track changes everything, it doesn't follow any formula that any other track on this album may have followed. It's a track that incorporates some brilliant sounds and elements that also aren't heard elsewhere on this album. From elements of R'n'B being used extensively to the picture that is built up of the garden on fire and the lingering question that see's out the album as they ask "is this where your journey ends, or where your life begins?"

It's certainly an interesting album and there are more hits than misses along the way here. It seems like these are songs for listening to in worship, rather than songs to be recreated for your own worship. It's debut that put Zealand out there and on the map, as they grow as a band and come back off tour I am sure they will see how people react to these songs and be seeing more what works and what doesn't with the audience. I would love to see more of these strong and more unique tracks like "Garden's On Fire" and "Deeper Waters" and less of the items that sound like what other people are doing. Ultimately, of course, they must write creatively with the words that God lays on their hearts for their listeners!

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