The Michael W. Smith album I didn’t know that I wanted

Label: Rocketown Records
Length: 13 songs/50 minutes

I have had more fun listening to A Million Lights by Michael W. Smith than any of his other recordings. It’s the blend of electronic and acoustic that delights and fascinates.

One moment it sounds like EDM (electronic dance music), the next I hear organic instrumentation. So expect this unexpected hybrid.

Surprises often happen on a bridge. In “Love Always Wins” suddenly you hear the gentle chords of an acoustic guitar. In “Crashing Waves” it’s the sound of a church organ. That might seem like a turnoff but this retro sound fits perfectly.

Smith accomplishes what can sometimes elude established artists, who seek to remain relevant. Musically and lyrically this speaks in the language of today.

It’s not just the EDM influence heard on many of the tracks. He frequently references the discord and division in our society and engaging those who are different. A cynic might dismiss it all as being too simplistic.

I think of the apostle Paul’s words, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). Love has a healthy curiosity that seeks to understand the other. It builds a bridge instead of a wall. It crosses lines, sometimes self-imposed, to reach out. So I like it when Smith sings, “Bring me into the conversation … I just want to talk to you.”

So not only would I regard this as among Smith’s best work, it’s like an antidote; gentle persuasion towards making the bitter waters sweet. Listening increases hope.

In need of a personal resurrection? Try “Crashing Waves,” which sounds as powerful as its title. The forceful singing and music reminds me of some of the most passionate moments on his Worship (2001) release. The striking imagery adds to it all:

Somebody hid the sun / In the midnight of suffering / My tears are falling down / And crashing like waves / Somebody stole the day / And took your light from me / I’ll never be the same / Roll this stone away

This song seems so fitting as Easter approaches on the calendar. Initially, it made me think of the day when for a time the sun refused to shine. It was the midnight of suffering for the Son of Man, as he cried out, feeling forsaken.

Please be aware that this is not one of Smith’s worship releases. It’s a studio project of pop though at times it crosses over to include adoration. Instead for the first time in his career he has released two albums in a week, the second being Surrendered, a live worship recording, which I won’t comment on here as I have yet to hear it.

When Smith’s first album, The Michael W. Smith Project (1983), was released, production like this did not exist. Bryan Todd, Kyle Lee and Smith, who is a co-producer, deserve credit for making this sound so enjoyable.

A Million Lights opening title track imagines the stars worshiping God. If they had a language it might sound like the mysterious noises that you hear at the beginning, and which pop up in other forms later on.

Don’t think that it’s all wildly different. It’s still the same voice, though varied at times by programming. Plus, some of the tracks toward the end are more acoustic.

“Hey Love” is a piano and strings duet with Jordin Sparks that reunites Smith with his longtime songwriting partner, Wayne Kirkpatrick. It’s a beautiful ballad with a touch of melancholy as it contemplates the empty nest syndrome.

Shortly afterwards its followed by “Forgive,” another introspective track written with Wes King. I would have enjoyed hearing him play on it, but he may have retired from session work. Regardless, I’m glad for the depth that he brings to these lyrics.

This is followed by another big name collaboration, none other than Cindy Morgan on “Who You Are.” For those who might not know, Smith normally composes the music to lyrics supplied by others.

You hear his keyboard work throughout, and the melodies are captivating. In addition to praise and worship, Smith excels in pop craft, and it is evident here. It sounds fresh to me. It’s the Michael W. Smith album I didn’t know that I wanted.

Michael Dalton