46 thoughts on “Another Hallelujah?

  1. Ash

    10 points to anyone who can name which band Mr. Brewster toured with prior to his worship leading fame (no google/wiki allowed).

  2. corey

    Steve Perry, post-journey.

    And I LOVE this song. There’s nothing sacred about anything. We have discussed to death that once a song leaves the mastering facility it’s fair game for a prom theme, a first dance, or a toilet paper commercial.

    I love the guitar tones on this and think the lift into the solo is probably one of the best I’ve ever heard. It’s in my top 3 solos of all time. I can’t imagine being there in the congregation on this night.

  3. Chad

    Corey –

    I’ll tell you why I disagree with you, but before I do, I have to tell you that I do hold this song in high esteem. Buckley’s version is, for me, untouchable.

    Here’s why I protest Lincoln’s version: the lyrics are shitty. He took a brilliant, brilliant lyric and made it a trite, Christianese piece of crap. I’m actually embarrassed for him.

    If he had spun it brilliantly, I’d call it as such, but I fear it’s not the case.

  4. Leonard

    Chad, what do you feel? It is hard getting a reading on your thoughts here.
    You guys are the purists in the music field… It was just a fun night to worship and record…

    As for the music, I really like the Shrek version best

  5. michael lee Post author

    The original lyrics are so, so poignant. They are about the struggle to find love in the midst of brokenness and doubt; love for God, love for others.

    “The baffled king composing Hallelujah”

    “Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof”

    “I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
    love is not a victory march”

    “It’s not a cry you can hear at night
    It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
    It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”

    This version is just … trite. Corey, I’m with you in principle, once a song goes out into the world, it truly goes out, and people do with it what that will. That doesn’t mean we need to applaud every version. It’s still OK for us to look at the things people do and say, “You ought not to have done that.”

    This song didn’t need anything added or taken away. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song and it is ALREADY a means of worship. Difficult, probing, questioning worship maybe, too complex for an easy Sunday morning set maybe, but to scoop it out and serve only the husk is mean fare.

  6. Chad

    Here’s my feeling:

    I have a pet peeve when Christian artists take a secular song and rewrite the lyrics. It rubs me wrong. Yes, yes, I know… “A Mighty Fortress” was a drinking song. It just smacks of, “ME TOO!!! I’M COOL!!! SEE!!!???” Christians should be at the forefront of artistry. We serve the Creator of art. We shouldn’t be playing copycat.

    In this case, I object based on the fact that he engaged in my pet peeve with one of my favorite songs, ever. And he did it with the following lyric:

    “I love You Lord with all my heart
    You’ve given me a brand new start”

    That’s Mickey Mouse, I’m-writing-my-very-first-and-most-bestest-ever worship chorus hooey.

    The original lyric to “Hallelujah,” is utterly brilliant, layering Biblical imagery on top of a focused and yet meandering meditation on love and ecstasy and pain and the intermingling of the three.

    Jeff Buckley’s take on this song is sacred canon, for me. It’s a tour de force, a five minute virtuoso performance. It’s simply staggering to put on a good pair of cans and listen to the mastery he has over both of his instruments. The Rufus Wainright version from Shrek is pretty good, and perhaps if I’d heard it first, I’d feel differently, but Buckley’s version is just a masterwork.

    I would have much more respect for Brewster if he had simply recorded the original version and presented it for the Church’s consideration and treated them like grown-ups, capable of digesting grown-up food instead of milk.

    I think Lincoln Brewster is a cool worship leader. Never met him, but I’ve seen him once and I thought he was the real deal. He’s a fine musician, who writes and interprets songs well. His ministry has impacted the lives of my sister in law and her husband, who attend Bayside, and for that he has my gratitude.

    I just think, as an artist, he blew it on this one.

  7. Leonard

    Mike, thanks for the links, those were great. I am just not as insightful as you guys when it comes to this music stuff, so I say… “hey can I sing along with it and not feel like it is stupid?” I cannot discern, lifts, riffs or such. So from a consumer perspective, I really liked Dylan’s version.

    Lincoln is a friend of mine, we worked at Bayside together and I pastor one of the 12 Bayside churches now. He is the real deal, a great guy off stage and is a genuinely humble guy.

    Is there some pressure to produce music that comes with an elevated status? I listen to some artists and think… wow 8 of the 12 songs you did on that are amazing, but those other 4 seem to be thrown together.

    As a preacher my pressures are different.

  8. michael lee Post author

    Leonard, I’ve heard similar things from everyone who has worked with Lincoln Brewster. I have no doubt it’s the case. I don’t mean to impeach his character, just his judgment in this particular case.

    It’s hard not to see a little bit of musical hubris in messing with a song like this. “Oh cool, I love that song, I bet we could rewrite it just a little bit to make it REALLY great …”

    Picasso’s Weeping Woman is a powerful piece of art. We could totally use it in a worship service if we photoshopped a cross and a dove in the background.

    Breakfast of Champions is a dark, disturbing masterpiece of a novel about the destruction of narrative and the escape from fiction. If we changed all of the character’s names to biblical references, we could maybe read a portion of it in church on Sunday.

    Louis Armstrong changed music forever – the force of his genius still echoes across all genres of popular music. You know what would make his music even better? If Kenny G bought up the rights to the master recordings, overdubbed some shitty soprano sax solos on top of Louis’s singing, and re-released it.

    Some works of art deserve to be left intact.

  9. Leonard

    Michael, I do not feel like you are impeaching or even trying to speak negative on his character. I apologize if I communicated that. I was affirming what chad said primarily about Lincoln.

    I love the original words so I am also not married to his lyrics in this case. The question I have is as an artist do you feel compelled to produce a product and if so, does that compulsion lead to less than stellar songs on a project.

    As a pastor and speaker, there is a definite art to what I do. But my pressure comes more from fundies who believe that expository sermons are the only way to preach. Well it would be pressure if I cared what they think. Which leads me to my second question.

    What if you do something you really like but other people say it is crap? How do you process their input as an artist? Especially if they are also artist. how much should you care. I have heard people say they love what Lincoln did with this song. Just wondering out loud.

  10. corey

    Leaning against my couch right now, I have (4) three-thousand dollar electric guitars. All are derivatives of the stratocaster. Last night, I forced Beth into a blind listening test so she could tell me which of the 4 guitars was the best (you can imagine her excitement). I went through each guitar and played the same handful of sounds and the same licks, clean then dirty. It was interesting when looking back over her notes that no single guitar was the winner. She liked one guitar’s bridge pickup overdriven and another’s bridge pickup clean. And she liked one guitar’s neck pickup clean with heavier playing and another’s neck pickup with overdrive but with a light playing touch. It reminded me that each of these guitars has something really admirable about it (as they $hould for that kind of money).

    Bringing this back on point, I think that- like the guitars- every tune is a reducible complexity. Lyrically, the original is almost unmatched. You’re right. Line for line, it is genius. It’s lyric writing at its best. Brewster’s version, on the other hand lacks in the genius lyrics, but has a guitar solo that unconventionally begins at the top of the musical arc, where most solos build into the climax. As appreciative as I am of Cohen’s lyrics, I am equally- if not *more*- appreciative of what Brewster did as a guitar player, which was weave notes and feeling into one of my desert island guitar solos. I have literally welled up with tears listening to this guitar solo. And when I’m listening to music, I want brilliant lyrics and I want brilliant guitar playing. However, if one ends up being brilliant enough to compensate for the other’s weakness, I still call it a win.

    I absolutely see your point, however. The lyrics stink of some of the things that I can’t stand about CCM. The oversimplification of our wrestling with God is the cancer of Christian communication.

  11. Daniel Semsen

    It’s just the lyrics. They stink.

    I was at the Saddleback worship conference when LB performed this prior to it’s release on the “All to You” album. When he started the song, I was pretty excited. “OOOH. He’s gonna sing THIS?!?! AWESOME.”

    Then he started singing…and the lyrics…just…killed me.

    I think Chad hit it on the head. It’s too Mickey Mouse. I bet if he had mulled over these lyrics for a few more months, and really put some good thought into it, he could have come up with something great. I’m ok if people change lyrics to pre-existing songs if the end result is GOOD.

    Just not this.

    On a related topic–
    It’s actually appalling to see the low quality of what we offer God as artists a lot of the time (and by WE, I mean the church/Christians,etc–not WE like the readers/writers of this blog).

    I know I’m making a broad generalization here and I might get strung up for it, but I get a lot of people bring me lyrics they’ve written and ask me to write music to it so we can all sing it in church. And I think…yikes! I can’t write a song to THIS!?

    Not to mention the crap that I find in Christian bookstores…albums, books, t-shirts…the whole thing. The “Jesus is going to create MYSPACE in heaven” t-shirt just doesn’t do it for me. Ugh.

  12. Nick

    One time, we sang a song in youth group that was to the tune of “Achy Breaky Heart.” I thought it was amazing. It was 1994 and I was a 9th grader.

    I really wish I had those lyrics.

  13. Nick

    I listened to the song really wanting to defend the lyrics. LB’s version is written in a very similar rhyme scheme (couplets, triplets), but it just falls short. It’s a good lesson in forced rhyme.

    “Well I know that you’re the God above/You’re filling me with grace and love”

    That’s not as bad as the line Chad cited, but it’s still pretty forced. The original is just really good poetry.

  14. Chad

    Dude rhymes “Hallelujah,” with…

    “Outdrew ya”
    “Do ya”
    “Overthrew ya”
    “Knew ya”

    And it works. Brilliant.

  15. Cerise

    Oo. This is like 4 or 5 kinds of serious mind fodder. I’m think I’m going to get all bullet-pointy:

    1. No WAY was I going to listen to this, but Corey, dang it, I really, really had to hear that solo. Thank you, darling. I nearly did a frigging handstand. Weeping. (3:19 if anyone wants to skip the rest)

    2. The lyrics hurt my heart. However, I’m ‘nothing is sacred’ girl too and a song this transcendent is bound to be – and is – slaughtered to death by the well-meaning (Mad World, anybody?). But yeah, bad/good, music/not music…not my game. But ouch anyway. Ow ow ow.

    3. If I had known of this song back in my worship daze (I didn’t) and IF I had heard this version, it would have sent me straight to the moon. Sent. Me. If this is the only way people will ever hear this song I…well…what if they never heard it at all?

    4. 2:34 – screaming rock octave-up. Gets me every time.

    5. Does anybody like K.D. Lang’s version?

  16. Corey

    Nice to see your words again, Cerise.

    I appreciate your point. I think it’s also worth noting this divide between Christian Commerce in Art and the barest essentials of our communicative heart towards God. I’m sure he doesn’t mean to do this, but LB’s tune is a nice object lesson for not needing to be eloquent when professing gratitude to God.

    In truth, his new record also has spots of lyrical questionability. I ask myself, “really? You couldn’t spend 15 more minutes on those lines to say something that punches as hard as your guitar playing?”

    But again, as for commerce- I feel that it lacks. As for worship (which he’d claim is the purpose), there really isn’t a reason to try to impress God with scrabble words and Cohen-esque poetics.

  17. aly hawkins

    As for worship (which he’d claim is the purpose), there really isn’t a reason to try to impress God with scrabble words and Cohen-esque poetics.

    Fifty percent of me agrees with this. Maybe 45 percent. The other bits feel strongly that (a) content is important (I miss wordy hymns for this reason) and (b) creative excellence is godly — literally. I think I agree with the not trying to impress God part of your statement. That’s silly. But Scrabble words and Cohen-esque poetics are dope, mostly because they require us to be thoughtful about deploying them.

  18. Jeff Davis

    Wow. Maybe we worship leaders should spend less time critiquing others and more time looking at ways to improve ourselves as leaders, writers and mostly as servants. Don’t like how another arranged or re-arranged a song? Don’t use it. :-)

  19. Chad

    Jeff… sorry if I don’t know you… how’d you find this blog? This is not a place where worship leaders are often criticized. In fact, as I reread this thread, I see a lot of complimentary things said about Lincoln Brewster, even as some of us found his aesthetic choices on this song to be somewhat distasteful.

    IN fact, I think if you’ll reread this thread again, you might find some really thoughtful, graceful commentary about worship leading and art and commerce and lots of interesting things.

  20. Dave

    Hi everyone… I know I’m joining this conversation a year late, but I just found it today. I never was aware of the LB version until just now. Quite seperate from this, I was trying to compose my own version to perform as a solo at our church’s Good Friday.

    Now some of you might say, “Why rewrite it?” Well, I love the song, I love the thought Cohen put into the lyrics, but I have real problems with singing the line that throws the Holy Dove into the line about sex. Cohen’s use of hallelujah in that line seems to go too far and almost trivialize ‘hallelujah’, which should only be used for God…not orgasms…(sorry for the crudeness there, but that’s my feeling). (And by the way, that’s what Jeff Buckley once said the song was about). So all this is to say, that I could not use the original song in a church.

    On the other hand, I agree with many of you in that LB’s words are wayyy too trite, not a lot of depth. So my thought was, why not rewrite the song and talk about Holy Week, and the many kinds of hallelujah’s that were spoken around Christ’s death. Here is what I have so far:

    1st verse – triumphal entry
    Well I heard you rode into the town
    With palms and coats laid on the ground
    While the men and women yelled hosanna to ya
    And in a week they’d lay you bare
    They’d strike your cheek and pull your hair
    But for today they shouted, “Hallelujah!”
    Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

    2nd verse – arrest
    Then in the middle of the night
    They took you away without a fight
    The Pharisees thought they overthrew ya
    With testimonies falsified
    They led you to be crucified
    And all the people shouted, “hallelujah”
    Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

    3rd verse – crucifixion
    And in pain the Lord hung alone
    With iron nails pierced threw his bones
    All to take the punishment that was due ya
    And he cried to God, hanging on the tree
    Saying, why have you forsaken me?
    And with his last, he breathed out, “hallelujah.”
    Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

    - I still have to write the last verse, which will be about the genuine ‘Hallelujah’ of the resurrection. I don’t know, I think this kind of rewrite captures the somber mood of the instruments, but also puts to use a diverse range of ‘hallelujah’s.’ What do you think

  21. Dave

    ..I finished the last verse, which reads:

    Well soon they laid you in the tomb
    And women brought you sweet perfume.
    The Jewish priests were certain that they slew ya’
    But the Roman guards were soon amazed
    As the Son of Man from death was raised
    And all in heaven shouted, “Hallelujah!”
    Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah!

    so there you have it. I’m curious what others think of this…

  22. corey

    Dave, I really appreciate what you’ve done here and I think (although it has been argued that this song is “untouchable”) you have taken extreme measures not to trod in LB’s footsteps by composing lyrics using the Christianese RhymeBook 2nd Edition.

    I enjoyed reading your lyrics and would love to hear any feedback you receive from the congregation or leadership at your church. By the way, welcome to Addison Road. It’s a lot quieter around here these days since Facebook has been stealing everyone’s attention but some of the threads keep popping back up again.

  23. Zack

    The resurrection of this thread made me listen to the Lincoln Brewster version again. Now I have to clean vomit from my keyboard. Damn…

  24. chad

    Dave – I like your take. as much as I can. I am one of the purists on this tune. I am also a worship leader and a songwriter, so.. I thought I’d weigh in with a suggestion. For whatever it’s worth, I’d much rather hear your version learned in the church over Linc-i-link’s version.

    This verse in particular could use another pass.

    And in pain the Lord hung alone
    With iron nails pierced threw his bones
    All to take the punishment that was due ya
    And he cried to God, hanging on the tree
    Saying, why have you forsaken me?
    And with his last, he breathed out, “hallelujah.”
    Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

    Check this out, sing it in your head, and tell me if it wouldn’t sing better. :)

    And on the tree He hung along
    With nails piercing flesh and bone
    All to bear what punishment was due ya
    And He cried to God from on the tree,
    My Abba has forsaken me
    And with his last he breathed out, “Hallelujah…”

    Of course… my preference is that the song would remain a meditation on religious and physical ecstasy, and leave it at that, but that’s just me. Best of luck and God bless you.

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  26. Stacy Markay

    LB: As a Messianic song writer and Spirit-filled believer, I say “Bravo!” This lights me up like a Menorah in my soul. The lyrics are as a simple as a child’s heart – Unadulterated, Unpretentious, Unadorned, the way we should come before Yeshua. Love it, love it, love it. Thanks for being in touch with Yeshua.

  27. Judi

    I heard this song for the first time in church today. Well this version of one of (if not) my all time favorite songs. I was already in that place where I felt like I was in the Lord’s presence so I was really excited to be singing my favorite song as a worship to my King. Of course after I had to research the lyrics as soon as I got home and I stumbled on this blog. I gave background on when I first heard this version to put in my 2 cents regarding the debate over this song. Sometimes when we are standing in right at the out courts even the simplest worship “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” can move one right into the inner courts. When I sang the song during worship this is just what this song did for me. When I re-read the words after when I got home I thought “blech!” Are you kidding me? This is nothing like the beautiful lyrics of Cohen’s version. I agreed with most of the repliers on this blog. But then I remembered that sweet moment this morning when I first sang the song. That is what worship is all about. Sometimes focusing on the talent or the beauty of Christian music strips away the ability to truely open our hearts to Him and become true worshippers. Sometimes to truely go back to the heart of worship means simplifying our worship down “sunday school worship”. “Yes Jesus Loves Me” is all our hearts need to sing over and over again to bring us into the Holy of Holies…

  28. polly

    Sorry but for a worship song I love Lincoln’s version and I would love to hear yours Dave–great lyrics Cohen’s is great but not for worship

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