Music Review: Matthew West, "The Story of Your Life"


Matthew West is no stranger to the Christian music scene. His lineup of hits include "More," "Only Grace," "Next Thing You Know," "You Are Everything," "Something to Say," and "The Motions"... all songs that even the most casual CCM listener has at least heard a few times on the radio. For his fourth album, West planned to retreat to a small cabin in, literally, the middle of nowhere, after asking listeners to submit a story to his website for inspiration. He then took the hundreds of stories to the remote cabin and spent a few weeks drawing inspiration from the user-submitted stories, and writing songs about them. Hence, the album's title The Story of Your Life, fits perfectly.

In terms of music, the album is pretty typical adult contemporary fare, a significant step back from the more experimental Something to Say. That's not to say the music is bad, it's just that all the songs seem to blend in together, and it really becomes bland after a few of them, much like his second album History.

The album's saving grace is definitely in the lyrics. West's cabin retreat paid off immensely, and this album contains his strongest writing to date. Each of the songs incorporates one of the user-submitted stories, which makes it a unique project. The opening title track, pretty much sums up the entire theme of the album, and was inspired by a 17-year-old girl who was being thrown around in foster care, and was fearing she would never be adopted because of her age.

"My Own Little World," one of the album's few upbeat tracks, was written as a personal response from West after reading through all the stories. Its lyrics are brutally honest, and serves as a confessional before asking "What if there's a bigger picture?" and encourages listeners to step out of their comfort zones to reach out to others and give a little more. 

"One Less" tells the story about a man and wife who are unable to have children and made a little girl "one less broken heart in the world." "To Me" is an uncharacteristically bouncy guitar number about school bullying. A special appearance from Leigh Nash makes the song one of the album's standouts. Others include the heart-wrenching "Broken Girl," written about a girl who suffered from abuse, and "Two Houses," written for children with divorced parents. "Survivors" is another highlight, and is sure to speak right to the hearts of anyone suffering with cancer or another life-threatening illness.

Despite the music falling into standard tailored-for-CCM-radio territory, the album's lyrics display some pretty gut-wrenching themes, and leaves the listener with a sense of hope and encouragement. The Story of Your Life covers a variety of topics, and everyone is sure to find at least one song that speaks to them on a personal level. Some will even touch you on an emotional level (admittedly, there were several songs that left me with a lump in my throat). All in all, West's fourth album is a worthy effort for its lyrics alone. I personally hope he mixes it up a bit musically next time around, but maybe the slower, adult contemporary sound displayed on this album was necessary for tackling the difficult, personal topics.

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