After his twentieth album, A New Hallelujah, Contemporary Christian music legend, Michael W. Smith, is back in the saddle nearly four years since his last full-length, original project (Stand). His latest release, Wonder, is an another ambitious project which combines pop, adult contemporary, and worship in classic Michael W. Smith fashion.
The album is very impressive sonically as Smith capitalizes on state of the art technology to make Wonder sound as cutting edge as possible. This is evident on the album opener, "Save Me From Myself," which is an effective pop/rock tune with a infectious chorus. Smitty's vocals carry the album on multiple points on throughout it, including "Take My Breath Away." The melody features sound hooks and pleasant piano moments that lift the well-paced pop song to be a highlight. On "Run To You," Smith also uses his voice to make the laid-back adult contemporary track a solid, light rock tune. "I'll Wait For You" has a southern tone to it, and is a bit too dry for the first two-thirds of the song. Although the unexpected choir livens up the song towards the end, the inspirational pick-up feels too detached from the first piece of the song.
The solid ballad "Forever Yours" has a raw piano to go along with atmospheric flavor. "Welcome Home" is an emotion-filled soft pop track which may come across as too slow for some. The title track and probable future radio single, "Wonder (Not Far Away), is a worship song with a very upbeat pop sound which includes a delightful piano-fueled bridge. The aspiring "Rise" is a traditional Michael W. Smith song with plenty of ambition and progression as the inspirational song unfolds. The best of Wonder's moments may be the tragic "Leave," because the guitar-driven ballad is nothing short of haunting. The final two cuts, "One More Time" and "Take Me Over" are both piano-centered contemporary pop songs with the finale acting as a closing worship song with hymn-like ambiance.
I was surprised to find that Wonder contains a good deal of lyrical depth and insight which is well above your average contemporary radio song writer. Among the themes on the album are the issues of hope, loss ("Welcome Home") and surrender ("Take Me Over"). Michael W. Smith also pays tribute to his wife on "You Belong to Me" and "Forever Yours." On multiple occasions, Smith make reference for our clear need for a savior (he sings "You save me/Save me from myself/There is no one else I'd lean on" on "Save Me From Myself"). While not necessarily speaking in specifics in every song, Smitty candidly speaks on the issue of abuse in "Leave" ("Daddy's on the sofa, turning up another bottle to unleash when I get home/I pretend he doesn't hit me/Momma just pretends that she don't know").
Listeners who thought that Stand was among the more accessible Michael W. Smith albums in the past several years will find that Wonder meets Stand's accessibility, if it doesn't surpass it. Although Smith's latest is still an adult-contemporary, pop album with a lot of songs that have "radio" written all over them, there is a lot of depth here musically and lyrically. Wonder is full of fresh sounds and thoughtful messages which any CCM fan should at lend an ear to.- Review date: 9/26/10, written by Nathaniel Schexnayder of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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