By John Bowen, Web Content Director
With a 27-year musical career, a discography with 21 titles in it, an endless list of awards and honors, an impressive number of appearances on TV and cable programs; where does someone like Michael W. Smith go from here? What can he possibly communicate musically that he has not already said?
With the release of his 22nd and latest career album, Wonder represents a new chapter in the artist's life and musical output. Does it measure up to the iconic hall of fame work he's done in the past?
What immediately strikes you when you listen to this new opus are Smitty's compositional trademarks: rhythmic turns and unusual meters, prominent synthesizer-driven music beds, and high pop choruses. In many ways, it stands out as distinctively "Smitty" and not-as-predictable as the formula Christian music heard from many artists today. However, you definitely hear a metamorphosis in these new compositions where he's taking hold of influences like U2, Chris Tomlin, and Hillsong Live. "Run to You" and "I'll Wait for You" are perfect examples. Wonder is definitely Michael W Smith's attempt to remain relevant to what's going on now in Christian Music. At times it reminds me of a 60-year-old recapturing his youth by driving a Corvette. If you have "I Will Be Here For You" stuck in your brain forever, this new style is somewhat of a tight shoe to fit on.
A couple tracks are out of the gate winners – like the radio-friendly "Save Me From Myself" with guitars and synthesizers working together to create a pop wall of sound. "Take My Breath Away" is another catchy upbeat song you could potentially hear on the radio.
There's also a melancholy, introspective section of Wonder, found in the songs "Forever Yours" where Michael conveys his devotion to his wife Debbie, and "Welcome Home" where he bids a sad farewell to his wife's grandmother. Albeit very tender and well done, the songs create a strong down-draft emotionally for what is otherwise a renaissance for Michael. To be sure, these songs will minister to many, but they bring a really dark chapter to this CD.
The thing that stands out after reflecting on this CD is Michael W Smith's ability to create music that both changes with and adapts to the contemporary Christian music culture, yet is undeniably "Smitty". Many of us can name groups whose 3rd, 4th, 5th CD sounded like the well of musical ideas had run dry. Wonder shows us that Michael's well is receiving ideas from today's guitar-driven worship sound on the one hand, and that he still has plenty to say himself on the other. To some ears however, Wonder is going to sound like Michael W. Smith having a mid-life crisis and grasping to sound relevant and current. To others, it's a logical continuation of a hall-of-fame career and talent.
Is Wonder another hall of fame recording of the caliber of "Change Your World" or the "Worship" series? Only time will tell. But for Smitty fans, it's a great addition to your collection!