The Big Picture, Michael W. Smith's third full-length for Reunion, was a slightly different change of pace for the budding CCM star. Whereas Smith's previous two albums, Project and Michael W. Smith 2, were self-produced, mostly keyboard driven efforts, The Big Picture sounded conspicuously like a lot of contemporary pop albums of the time: big synths, loud guitars, and that overarching "'80s sound" that sounds so horribly dated today. The catalyst for this sonic metamorphosis was undoubtedly the introduction of well-known pop producer John Potoker. Having previously worked with '80s artists Brian Eno, Talking Heads, and Madonna, Potoker infused Smith's music with a "bigger" sound in an attempt to make it more appealing to pop music fans of the day. This change was foreseeable considering Smith's strong desire to reach mainstream fans with his music, although I still can't help but cringe every time I hear its over-the-top production techniques with 21st century ears.
That being said, Smith's songwriting must be commended, because he never allows his songs get buried beneath the excessive production. This is due to the fact that the songs on The Big Picture are melodically just as strong as ever and, in fact, features some of Smitty's best songs to date. A great example is the epic "Rocketown," a touching tale about the importance of being Christ's light in the midst of a dark world. Perhaps the most affecting song of Smith's career (apart from "Friends"), it eventually became the inspiration behind Smith's record label, as well as the Nashville hot spot of the same name.
The rest of The Big Picture has its share of highlights: "Lamu" is a melodically memorable song about the emptiness of escapism; "Pursuit of the Dream" is a strong encouragement about following God's plans in life, while "Old Enough To Know" is an encouraging and hook-laden song about the virtues of staying pure in the face of peer pressure.
The more one listens to The Big Picture though, the more its artificial sounds grate on the ears. It's unfortunate that the album's overall musical impact is dulled by the dated production, but once you get through its hard, artificial sonic surface, you'll find that there are a good number of melodic gems underneath. With its unparalleled melodicism and top-notch songwriting (no doubt the result of Smith's budding partnership with lyricist Wayne Kirkpatrick), The Big Picture is another solid - though now-slightly dated - effort by Michael W. Smith.- Review date: 2/10/07, written by Sherwin Frias
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