A New Hallelujah
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2008 1 Oct
- Prepare Ye the Way
- A New Hallelujah
- When I Think of You
- Mighty to Save
- Shout Unto God
- Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
- Deep in Love with You
- Healing Rain / Let It Rain
- I Surrender All
- Intro to Help Is on the Way
- Help Is on the Way
- The River Is Rising
It's time that longtime fans of Michael W. Smith accept that the pop star of the '80s and '90s is gone (though certainly not forgotten). Sure, he still plays classics like "Friends" and "This Is Your Time" in concert, but we shouldn't expect albums like
And why shouldn't he? It's not as if the guy hasn't earned the right to record whatever he wants after 25 years. Besides, if a return to pop means a disappointing project like 2006's Stand, then perhaps it's best Smith sticks to worship music. He's obviously very good at it, having planted a church where he regularly leads. Fans seem to agree, having made 2001's Worship and its 2002 sequel Worship Again two of his biggest selling albums.
So if there's anything surprising that Smith is back to worship music, it's that it took him 6 years to do so.
One thing I appreciate most about Smitty's approach to worship music is his ability to maintain a sense of artistry while keeping the music congregational friendly. The pop star's showmanship is very much alive and well in his arrangements and performances, but as with Tomlin, he still keeps the audience in mind to keep them singing along in praise. Like the multi-artist Exodus project that he recorded and produced 10 years ago, Smith instantly grabs your attention with the massive percussion of this album's "Intro," leading into the accessible worship pop of "Prepare Ye the Way." A catchy song, for sure, even though it's a rather simplistic and repetitive Psalm adaptation, but then music has always been Smith's strong suit over lyrics.
That generally holds true for the other original tracks, the best being the title cut, written with Smith's wife Debbie and worship writer extraordinaire Paul Baloche ("Above All," "Open the Eyes of My Heart"). Backed by The African Children's Choir, the song is a perfect combination of worship, pop, and mission set to a steady, anthemic stomp that's readily singable and lyrically purposeful. "Deep in Love with You" is nearly as good—a simple love song to the Father that's stylistically in keeping with Smith's original pop balladry. Though there's not much to it lyrically, there are flashes of depth in lines like "I enter through the curtain, parted by Your grace."
The other new songs are more mixed. "When I Think of You" is a lot of fun, driven by an African pop feel reminiscent of Paul Simon's
Interestingly, each of Smith's worship albums has a distinct flavor. The first was an AC-friendly compilation of the biggest modern worship anthems at the time, while the second took a more reverential, almost liturgical tone overall.
Nevertheless, Smith knows how to make a strong worship album that's well-paced, varied, and poignant, not to mention well-performed by all involved—Michael Olson is a capable singer/songwriter in his own right on Smitty's Rocketown label, but he distinguishes himself as a terrific drummer here. In the future, it'd interesting to hear Smith try a worship album in studio again, not unlike