Sunday, June 2, 2013

Music Review: Wonder by Michael W. Smith

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A few decent songs
Cons: Most of the songs don't have good melodies, lyrics, or both
The Bottom Line
A disappointment
Outside of a few singles
Songs aren't any good

Makes Me Wonder Why I Continue to Buy Michael W. Smith's Releases

I started listening to Christian music in the early 90's, and back then if you wanted to call yourself a Christian music fan, you needed to be a fan of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.  Whether or not it was peer pressure, I started to really enjoy their music.  I've kept up with both artists over the years, automatically buying their new releases.

I've almost stopped buying Michael W. Smith's new releases, however.  Over the last few years, the only ones I've truly enjoyed have been his worship discs (and I'm not normally a fan of worship releases).  But I started hearing that Wonder, his 22nd release, was going back to his earlier work and would be the best thing he'd done in years.  Excited by the hype, I went and bought it.  I wish it had lived up to the hype.

Now don't get me wrong, there are some good tracks here.  For example, it starts off well with the upbeat "Save Me From Myself."  The lyrics are a bit simple as he sings about how God saves us from our sinful nature.  However, it's a fun melody that makes me want to sing along.

I also really like "Wonder (Not Far Away)."  Again, it's upbeat with some synthesizer and guitar as the song reminds us that God is not that far away from us when we're in pain.  The chorus turns the song into an anthem that celebrates the mysteries of the God who is always there for us.  The verses are a bit weird as Michael seems to be talking more than he is singing.  I'm not quite sure the lyrics fit the melody there, but on the chorus it works.

However, those are the best tracks.  Many of the rest are just mediocre.  "Take My Breath Away" is an attempt as a new worship song, and if the chorus were the pattern for the song, it would be great.  However, the verses don't work with the melody.  He often has to break the lines into two or three parts, but none of the breaks are in logical spots.  Instead, it leaves me struggling to follow his thoughts.

"Run to You" runs into one of my biggest complaints with lyrics, repetition.  Not only is the chorus very repetitive, but the lyrics repeat words two or three times in a row.  It's just not that great a song.

Then there are the two love songs on the disc.  "Forever Yours" and "You Belong to Me" are attempts on romantic songs.  The first one is a very slow piano song, but the melody doesn't seem at all connected to the piano behind it.  You belong to me incorporates strings into the piano, and the melody is much prettier here.  I could actually picture this one becoming a wedding staple in years to come.  But "Forever Yours?"  Instantly forgettable.

Finally, there's the duo of "Leave" and "One More Time."  These songs are on the disc back to back and are obviously intended to be combined.  "Leave" is written from the point of view of a teenage girl going through a lot between physical abuse at home and being picked on at school.  There is even talk of suicide in the second verse, but it ends with the speaker crying out to God for just a shred of hope.  The music consists mainly of guitar with piano behind it, and it's a very haunting song even if the melody isn't very singable.  My main problem with the song is, by itself, it doesn't offer any hope.  I can the point of the song and why it would speak to people, but something about how hopeless it feels really bothers me.

As I said, the song is immediately followed by the piano based "One More Time."  It's mid tempo but much happier in tone.  It's a call to never give up despite the trials we face in life.  I'll admit I kind of like this one, although if it supposed to truly be a bit of encouragement to the speaker in the last song, I don't think it will work.  It's on the shallow and cliched side if I am going to be honest.

Michael W. Smith has fallen pretty far from his best releases during the 80's and early 90's.  Wonder is not a return to form.  I hate to give up on him, but I'm going to have to think long and hard before I buy his next release.

CD Length: 53:37
1. Save Me From Myself
2. Take My Breath Away
3. Run to You
4. I'll Wait for You
5. Forever Yours
6. Welcome Home
7. Wonder (Not Far Away)
8. Rise
9. You Belong to Me
10. Leave
11. One More Time
12. Take Me Over

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