It’s been 10 days since Australia's Christian super church, Hillsong, struck number five on the US billboard charts with their new album Zion. As with all Billboard-related news, I didn’t notice or care until they hit number one on the Australian charts, ousting Nick Cave in the process. I knew then that this was significant. Maybe even a full on thing that I shouldn’t miss. I got the album and had a listen but the sounds wouldn’t penetrate my agnostic upbringing. What I needed, what I felt lots of people needed, was a God-fearing ear to listen and tell us whether it was actually good. So I spoke to the realest priest there is, Crown Casino’s very own Father James Grant, and he offered the CD back to me as soon as we sat down.
VICE: You don’t want to keep it?
Fr James Grant:Well, it’s like that soft rock stuff by Air Supply, and I never liked it, even back then. All the songs start with these long intros before they break out with this sort of U2 thing and it’s all just formula. It’s also got an Eagles/Little River Band sound to it. They’re ballads – meditative ballads that work well in a church but all sound the same. It reminds me of the LA sound in the 1980s.
But what about the lyrics?
I also found them a little bit inane. They’re all “Immanuel” and “God loves me” and “God is so bloody wonderful” but that’s only one dimension to Christianity and it’s not even a major dimension. It doesn’t have any kind of pain, any kind of suffering or any sense of “I fucked up and Jesus Christ, I need some help.” And that’s my bias against that kind of faith; it just doesn’t deal with the shit and boredom of average life.
Do you think the guys in Hillsong deal with the shit and boredom of average life?
Well I don’t know. I don’t have a visual picture of them in my head, but in a way I do. They’re nice, solid, middle class, young people. The Guy Sebastians of the world. He’s now raunched up a lot but if you can consider what Guy looked like 5 years ago, that’s how I imagine these guys. And all the female singers – I bet they’re all very nice, manicured, good-looking women that you’d take home to your mum.
So who is buying this album?
Obviously their own people buy the album and friends of friends. That’s probably enough sales to push up into the normative stuff.
So of all the Christian albums, why is this one selling so well?
I think because it’s so slick. There’s thought gone into it and you can’t knock it technically. The production is obviously good, the sound is good, the musos are good and there’s just a faint bit of rock and roll, without the lead guitar breakouts. And it sounded very American to me. I’m not averse to that but Australian stuff seems to be a bit rawer. This was very soft, middle ground, Californian kind of niceness. A little bit of me thinks that Australians could bring something to that and make it a little edgier. And they certainly haven’t done that. They’ve fundamentally adopted an American style of Christianity.
What’s the American style of Christianity?
It’s the idea that the world used to be a dangerous, terrible and shitty place but now because of Jesus, it’s wonderful. A more universal form of Christian faith says we haven’t even begun the journey. I know Christianity is often portrayed in the west as this tired old thing that’ll collapse but it’s not like that in Africa and it’s not like that in Asia and it’s certainly not like that in South America. Over there it’s got a political dimension and a poverty dimension and it’s changing fast. None of that is reflected in Hillsong.
Do you buy Christian music?
No. I’m not trying to knock it but I get frustrated that they’re trying to sell us something that isn’t lasting. It’s an emotional hit but there’s nothing intellectual about it.
Do you buy music?
Yes. At the moment I quite like Adele. I like her because she’s got a kind of cockney rawness. It’s girl’s music but it’s honest.
What are some of your favourite bands?
Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and the Stones. I never really liked the Beatles all that much. I can’t stand Springsteen, I don’t get why he’s rated at all.
What do you hate?
I hated disco. I missed all of that shit.
What would you say to the guys in Hillsong?
I would say their music is okay, but to me, it’s baby faith. You just can’t focus on the goodness of God all the time. The fundamental teaching of Jesus is that everybody has to carry their cross. I didn’t hear any cross carrying in that shit.
So out of 5 stars?
Probably a nice two and a half, maybe three. It’s OK but it just doesn’t do anything for me. That’s why you can have it back.
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