Smith returns with two albums at once. Surrounded will probably sell more, but this is the one with deeper, more practical worship. It’s faster and brighter, too.

Labels: Rocketown / The Fuel Music
Time: 13 Tracks / 49 mins.    

Multi-platinum artist Michael W. Smith has been around long enough to have produced both very fine music and schmaltzy duds, but you can normally depend on his albums to gleam with polish (I thought his middle name was ‘radio-friendly’ but that doesn’t start with ‘W,’ so it can’t be).

This one certainly has a strong and vibrant sound, but it has substance as well as style.

Workload burnout and the death of his father put Smith's creative side on hiatus until last year. This album (and the slower live set Surrounded, released within a week of it) came in a bit of a rush, largely as a response, he says, to America’s bi-partisan tensions in particular and the vitriol that often taints social media.

So there is a practical spiritual core to these songs. “Your Love” is both about God’s faithfulness and the impact of following him; while specific songs about living together, while agreeing to disagree, include “Revolution” and “Conversation,” which says,
    One by one we’re separated
    What I thought was love just looked like hatred
    I’ve been losing myself trying to prove you wrong
    And right now, all I know is I can’t go on  
    So I’m stepping across all the lines I’ve drawn

“Love Always Wins” is just as explicit and intentional about loving those with whom we disagree:
    I know you’re listening from the other side, so here I come, no longer will I hide
    Your guns are pointed straight at me. Love always wins.
    I had it all, but I burned it down
    If we don’t get lost then we don’t get found
    We all have violence hiding deep within
    I need to hear it time and time always wins

The title track is a wonderful cosmos-inspired praise song. Surrounded is officially the worship album, but this track makes me want to praise and dance more than any on that collection.

This has a broader content, too. A couple of tracks urge listeners to trust that God has not made them by accident and to live out their purpose – partly his response to the drug and suicide epidemic; “Forgive” is a plea to abused people to forgive their abusers, so that they can move forward with their lives; “Footsteps” is a tribute to his Dad’s legacy and example (although it also works for us and our heavenly father); and “Hey You” is a love duet with Jordin Sparks.

So there is a depth to this that many praise-only albums miss, and as this is about lived-out faith, I’d consider it more of a true worship album than a more vertically-focussed and words-based one.

But the upbeat pop style makes it very easy to listen to. His songs don’t seem that complex (and some here are similar to older songs), but the gleaming polish he always gives them makes them shine brightly.

Smith’s voice is still gruff velvet and he has probably never sounded either fresher or more European. Welcome back, MWS.

Derek Walker