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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Michael W. Smith -- i 2 (EYE)

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Yes, I just rated a dated Michael W. Smith album eight out of ten. Here's why.
When I was seven or eight, my mom put the newest Michael W Smith cassette in my Christmas stocking. I had recently worn out my Journey to the Centre of the Earth Rick Wakeman cassette, so I welcomed anything new. In those heady days of the late 1980's, I went to bed every night with my cassette player running, usually drifting off to dreamland before the end of side one. My mom had some other Michael W. Smith cassettes, whose covers featured fonky colors and even fonkier sweater-vests.
i 2 (EYE), while dumbly titled, features a cover showcasing a decidedly less neon version of Smith, all black and white and sophisticated, with Smith sporting a pair of "I'm mature now" glasses that I've never seen him wear before or since. But enough about covers. Let's take a look at the music on this twenty-seven(!) year old album. Well, you can't look at music...but here goes...track by track.
1. Hand of Providence -- The guitar strumming and harmonica are immediate tip-offs that this is a vastly different Michael W. Smith than they guy who put out The Big Picture two years before. This sounds like the best song Sting never wrote. Smith has shifted from 80's pop rock to late 80's/early 90's Adult Contemporary. This is actually a big step up (and also a guilty pleasure genre for me, but only from that time period). The musicianship is excellent, particularly the drums and guitar, though the bass and keyboard are great, as well. Plus, the harmonica wails. Also, the best adult contemporary of this time had tons of atmosphere, and "Hand of Providence," along with most of this album, belongs in that club. The song brings to mind a wheat field blowing in a breeze in early fall. However, I need to mention the album's major caveat: Smith's vocals. There's a certain earnestness in his voice that may be hard for some listeners to take. Also, if you listen closely, his voice sounds a lot like Weird Al's..but serious. While I thought I should mention this, it doesn't stop me from enjoying  i 2 (EYE) because I've been listening to it on a cassette for almost 30 years...but it might stop you.
2. Secret Ambition -- One of the most powerful songs Smith ever wrote. "Secret Ambition" hearkens to a time when CCM songs were about the eternal power of Christ's sacrifice for his flock, set to music played by talented musicians, instead of a bunch of dumb dance-pop about a stupid feeling you have for five seconds. Also, five minutes from now, whatever is playing on K-Love will already be more dated than this song. I said before...this video illustrates what I mentioned at the end of the last paragraph perfectly: powerful images of Jesus, juxtaposed with footage of Smith prancing around in acid-washed jeans and a vest. Also, what happened to his glasses?

3. On the Other Side -- Another great, atmospheric, strangely-comforting song. Gentle melody, steady beat. I generally fell asleep to this song on side-one nights, and that's a high compliment from both seven-year old me and thirty-three year old me.
4. All You're Missin' Is a Heartache -- Nothing says late 80's rock like a duet with the dude from Stryper, but "All You're Misin' Is a Heartache" is a surprisingly tastefully restrained song, with a great slow-burn last couple of minutes that really utilizes the best qualities of Michael Sweet's voice. Sweet isn't the only Stryper member to appear here--Oz Fox lends a couple of electric guitar lines, as well.
5. I Miss the Way -- This song was boring to me back in the day, and as an adult, I still don't have much use for quiet ballads (unless they're like, really sexy), but Smith's earnest sadness at the loss of someone's faith actually carries the song pretty well.
6. Live and Learn -- Classic upbeat AC song, with a sweet horn line, and a trademarked horror-movie intro. Yes, horror movie--the first thirty seconds make me miss the late 80's/early 90's so much!
7. I Hear Leesha -- I have an older cousin named Alicia, who is really cool. We (me and the other cousins) sang this song ad nauseum to her because we were irritating little punks. Still brings a smile to my face now. Also, as a ballad, "I Hear Leesha" is a bit more involving than "I Miss the Way."
8.Help You Find Your Way -- If there is one song I can firmly say I do not like on i 2 (EYE), it is "Help You Find Your Way." If most of i 2 (EYE) features the best aspects of late 80's/early 90's music, "Help You Find Your Way" features the worst, with a repetitive, cheesy chorus, and a...*UGH*...double-time modulation at the end.
9. Ashton -- Nothing terrified my younger cousins like locking them in a dark room and forcing them to listen to the instrumental "Ashton." I guess I'm lucky I'm not in prison. Smith wrote "Ashton" while thinking of angels and demons battling each other via then hot Christian potboiler, Frank Peretti, but with almost thirty years' distance, Smith's freaky synth sounds, coupled with the synthesized drums, plus live fiddles and mandolin, are more reminiscent of Celtic Woman or Riverdance. Also, my son and I were on a recent road trip when this came on, and he told me how cool it would be if he, his cat, and his mii friends were in an RPG together, and how this music would play when it was the cat's turn to fight, A for bite, B for scratch, with hissing as a special move.
10. The Throne -- The worshipful "The Throne" is the bright payoff to "Ashton"'s darkness, but in present times, with its children's choir, and child-chant ending, "The Throne" is the far more terrifying of the two. However, my kid says this is the music that plays when the cat holds up its sword at the end of the game, and all the mii friends and the cat sing together, so there's that.
11. Pray for Me -- *Shhh!* "Pray for Me" is just a sequel to the more popular ballad, "Friends," but that's okay, it's still pretty good. Works well to end the album on a positive note, as well as keeping a feeling of continuity across the twelve tracks.
So there you have it. What should be a cheesy old CCM album is actually more timeless than it first fact, it's actually a really good album. Maybe I'll dust off my old cassette to help me fall asleep tonight...I went digital for this review, but the CD and MP3's don't have that satisfying white noise between the tracks...

1988 Reunion
1. Hand of Providence 4:33
2. Secret Ambition 6:26
3. On the Other Side 3:40
4. All You're Missin' is a Heartache 5:39
5. I Miss the Way 4:35
6. Live and Learn 6:17
7. I Hear Leesha 5:26
8. Help You Find Your Way 5:28
9. Ashton 3:17
10. The Throne 6:49
11. Pray for Me 3:52

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