Album: Burn the Ships
Release Date: 18 May, 2018
Genre: Christian Contemporary Music/ Christian pop
Record Label: Curb/Word Entertainment
Reviewer: Ikenna Nwachukwu
I struggle to keep a straight face while casting myself as an unbiased commentator on For King & Country’s Joy. I’m a fan! How do I try my hands at stabbing and slicing up this piece of melodic goodness?
Unless you’re a die-hard hymns-only fella who doesn’t fancy contemporary Christian music (and that’s fine), you’ll almost certainly find yourself bopping your head to the beat of this song. The more careful listener will warm up to its simple, brilliant and powerful lyrics. It’s not your regular stereotypical cliché stuffed Gospel song (For King & Country aren’t in that business), so you’re unlikely to get bored by it after just a couple of replays.
Now that I’m done with gushing, let’s see about having a proper music review.
Australian-American band For King & Country released Joy as a single in May 2018, as a foretaste of the band’s then upcoming album, Burn the Ships (the third they’ve produced thus far). Like the rest of the album, Joy draws on the everyday experience of our lives, and speaks of a hope beyond the troubles we face- a hope we should embrace.
Band members Joel and Luke Smallbone are keen to point out that Joy is a call to the faithful to defy the turmoil and uncertainty around them by choosing joy. They say they’re presenting an alternative to fretting and pessimism (perhaps even animousity) as reactions to the turbulent state of the world’s environment, politics, societies and the personal problems that besiege our individual lives.
As you’d expect of a well thought out song (more on this shortly), the message is kept afloat by the melody. Its rhythm and beat make it very danceable- and joy inspiring. It’s essentially an encouragement to rejoice in the face of trials and tribulations, wrapped in an exotic, almost festive sound that makes its optimistic content even more attractive.
The lyrics of this piece of music also hint at the source of the circumstance-defying joy that it invites us to. The bridge does justice to this, albeit in a covert way characteristic of much of contemporary Christian music:
“When I walk through the valley of the shadow of night
Oh with you by my side, I’m stepping into the light
I choose joy!”
My take on Joy as a work of art is that it’s expertly created. And when you realize that it took six months and more than 80 rewrites to come up with the current 3:53 minute version on the album, you appreciate the effort put in by the Smallbones and their co-writers to craft a sweet summon to joy for a world that sorely needs it.
The Story Behind the Song
Luke Smallbone has explained that the idea for Joy cropped up two years ago, while the band was having a discussion about what their next album would be. The discussion soon tended in the direction of encouraging people to be joyful in spite of the troubles they were facing.
“There’s a lot going on these days,” he said, in a video about the song, “and I think it’s really important for us to be people that have joy in our lives, no matter the circumstance.”
They finally decided on Joy as a theme when a friend also spoke to them of his strong belief that the world needed to hear the message.
The Music Video
The music video for Joy was also released in May. The mostly black-and-white video portrays a 1960s newsroom, and features Joel and Luke Smallbone, and Candace Cameron Bure, a well known TV personality in the US.
In the video (which starts off with Joel and Bure relaying news of a mega storm sweeping across the USA), Joel and Luke spread the talk of joy as they walk through the station’s premises. Eventually, their black-and-white environment turns polychrome as they lead the staff (including an initially pessimistic Bure) to dancing. The viewers (an old couple) join in the dancing when they see the gloomy broadcast replaced by live images of media people rejoicing.
The video’s symbolisms are, in general, easy to grasp (especially for Christians). Joel and Luke weave through the passages at the TV station and invite other workers at the station to join them; that’s an allusion to spreading the (joyous) Good News. The old tape which the brothers dump in the bin is a recording of bad news (fill this space with whatever trials and terrors you’ve faced). The new tape, which plays to display colour images (instead of the dull black-and-white in most of the video) is a reference to Christ; when it’s pushed to the ground in anger by Bure (i.e. when it dies) it gives out its colour (life) to everyone and everything- including Bure -and gets them all dancing for joy.
Joy peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Christian songs chart, and is in the top five of the top Christian songs of the year for 2018. It’s safe to say that it would have done even better on the charts if it hadn’t been for the exceptional runs enjoyed by Cory Asbury’s Reckless Love and Lauren Daigle’s You Say this year.
My Final Note
Joy is a feel good take on a crucial aspect of the Gospel- or one of its benefits. It’s the sort of song that ages very slowly, and sparks life in you when it floats into your ears.