For KING & COUNTRY is making some high-charting waves these days, debuting at a lofty No. 7 on Billboard’s mainstream album chart. Comprised of brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, this Christian duo has gone through some significant changes since the release of its 2014 album Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong.
Luke and his wife, Courtney, had their second baby. Joel got married to fellow Christian singer Moriah Peters. And each of the families struggled through some other heartrendering moments, which they’ve catalogued on their latest album, Burn the Ships. Each of these 11 songs brims with themes of hope and perseverance amid life’s difficult seasons and scary moments—calling on joy to be the anchor through it all.
The title track encourages people to cut ties with the shadows of their past and to take faith-filled steps into their future: “Step into a new day/We can rise up from the dust and walk away/We can dance upon the heartache, yeah/So light a match, leave the past, burn the ships/And don’t you look back.” In one lyric, we hear about working past an addiction (“So flush the pills”).
In “Pioneers,” the Smallbone brothers and their wives, Moriah and Courtney, sing about forgiveness and faithfulness as they walk through marriage hand in hand. They recognize the difficulties (“Out of touch, out of reach in the great divide/ Oh God, I hate this game,” one sings in a desperate prayer), but they also choose to work toward unity (“Let’s forgive, and let’s forgive again”).
Joel and Luke pray for their wives’ comfort when they’re away from home on “Hold Her.” They wonder, “Is it ever gonna be, ever gonna be brighter?/Is it ever gonna be, ever gonna be easier?” Still, they ask God to “Hold her tight/… ‘Cause I’m not there to stay close, keep watch, tell her she’s not alone.”
“Joy” and “Never Give Up” are both encouraging anthems for listeners. In the first, the Smallbone brothers decide to choose joy, no matter what difficult life circumstances may come (“The time has come to make a choice/And I choose joy”). And in the second, we’re told not to give up, no matter what (“Lost love, set back/Tough luck, off track/ … When gravity pins you down, find your feet, yeah, stand your ground”).
“Need You More” is a song about Luke’s little boy, who nearly died, and his and his wife’s journey through that terrifying moment: “Never knew that the fear/Could cripple my chest/ … Prepare for the worst/Hope for the best/Won’t You steady my heart/For whatever comes next?”
“Control” confessionally deals with the difficulties of releasing personal control and allowing God to take the lead: “You asked me to let go, but I thought I knew better/Afraid of surrender and what I don’t know/I’ve always had a plan but now I’m so weary/ … I give up control.”
A message of hope is given to those who feel ashamed and lonely in “God Only Knows.” We hear about the pain of many individuals (“God only knows what you’ve been through/God only knows what they say about you/God only knows that it’s killing you”), and the downtrodden are encouraged to remember that God is still near (“But there’s a kind of love that God only knows/ … God only knows the real you”).
Regarding the song “Fight on, Fighter,” the band tweeted that it’s “a charge to all of you incredibly strong women out there to know your worth and press onward even then things become difficult and uncertain.” The lyrics reflect that sentiment: “If I could, oh, I would be a hero/ … But I know that you’re brave.”
Luke shares his personal baptism story in “Amen.” He says to God, “Baptize me into Your love/Oh my spirit’s overcome/Body, mind, and skin, bone/Love Him, wanna make it known.”
It’s really nice to look at the Billboard charts and see something positive and uplifting—especially when the media and entertainment industry so often major on negativity and depressing themes.
In an interview on the Wally Show, Luke Smallbone said something similar: “I’ve been watching the nightly news. … I find myself wondering … ‘Why am I sad?’ … And what’s the trump card to difficulty and struggle? I think it’s joy.”
Joy, he goes on to say, is a choice. In contrast, our culture often teaches us to rely on our emotions to guide and steady us. But emotions constantly change. They’re not a good foundation for life. As Christians, however, we can choose joy—and cling to it—no matter what our emotions are saying.
And Burn the Ships does exactly that: It chooses life and light, even in the midst of some dark moments.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).