I’m old enough to remember when Phil Joel, lead singer of Zealand, was the bass player for Newsboys, the Christian rock band from Mooloolaba, in Queensland, Australia. Back then, in the late 1980s, my surfer friends were fans, and shared with me their laid back rock style. Newsboys are still going strong, but Joel left in 2006, to follow solo projects, including ‘deliberatePeople’, his Christian ministry, co-founded with his wife, Heather, which was named after his third solo album. Zealand was formed a few years later, comprising Phil Joel on vocals, his cousin Roger Angove on bass, Ben Bugna on drums, and Ben Garrett on guitar, and they signed to Word in May 2015. Following that they released the ‘Liberated’ EP in 2016, with the full length version in February this year. Currently they’re touring the US, as support for Newsboys on their ‘United’ tour.
‘Liberated’ is a worship album and comprises ten songs of praise which are as much prayers as anything else. Even if Christian music isn’t your bag, you’re sure to find something to enjoy here, it’s a laid back, mellow record with slick instrumentation. There’s not enough credit given to Christian artists, who mostly rise up out of Church bands, where they’ve led the worship every Sunday, often performing at as many as three services, and where they’ve been taught they’ve been given a gift from God, so therefore they need to perfect their talent.
Opening track, ‘Spirit Sing’, could easily find its place in a worship service, with its lyrics having strong Biblical references, such as “deep calls to deep”, from Psalm 42:7. It’s a love song to God ultimately, but could just as easily be directed at a signifcant other.
Title track ‘Liberated’ doesn’t beat around the bush, it makes no bones about it being a worship song, and opening with the lines, “Friend your sins are forgiven”. It’s been many years since I’ve listened to a Christian album, but instantly I’m pulled back to what appealed to me in the first place. This track, as with all the rest, is uptempo, slick, professional music, with a great sound produced by fantastically talented musicians, and giving a positive message of hope. “Pick yourself up, you can walk a free man.”
‘Center Of It All’ is a prayer, again, with strong Biblical imagery, such as “You’re the one that knit my heart together”, an allusion to Psalm 139:13 – “For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb” (NIV). Also, “Never gonna turn the light out” is a reference to John 8:12 where Jesus says, “I Am the light of the world.”
‘Deeper Water’, fourth song on the album, is a much slower track, and talks about how God changes us and makes us better people, through challenging us to move outside our comfort zones. “You take us to the deeper water” – we can get through it all by putting our trust in God.
Track five, ‘Beloved’, could easily be a love song, but it’s another worship song, while ‘Still’, which follows on from this, is no doubt a prayer about wanting to move into God’s presence, longing for communion with God. “You are the God who knew my name before I even breathed”.
‘Land Of The Living’ has a hymnal quality about it, and reminds me of a lot of the worship songs of my youth. It would definitely lend itself to a worship service, and with the beautiful bridge I could see any congregation going *totally OFF* singing it.
The slick instrumentals of ‘End Of The World’ and the positive, upbeat, and uplifting message of ‘Sanctuary’ show just how much these artists have devoted themselves to God; the lyrics in ‘Sanctuary’ convey this particularly – they’re putting everything before God, they have so much confidence in where they’re headed.
Finally, ‘Garden’s On Fire’ is the perfect end track. Slow, laid back and worshipful, it wraps up everything and in a way takes us back to where we started. Our spirits sing and we rest in the knowledge that in the end all is right with the world.
‘Liberated’ is out in the UK on August 2. Pre-order from Zealand’s official website.