When you're a kid, you're not necessarily looking for art in the music you choose. You want something you can enjoy listening to, that you can share with your friends without being ridiculed. Change Your World is something for the kid in all of us, because, more than any album he's made before, Michael W. Smith has delivered a supremely fun album, with layered melodies and harmonies of the highest caliber. Co-produced by Smith with Mark Heimermann (the co-producer of Lisa Bevill's oh-so sweet debut My Freedom), it would be easy to describe Change Your World as The Big Picture with big background vocals; easy, but unfair.
While both albums possess a fiery pop rush (andThe Big Picture still sounds good, six years later), Picture was a bit of a dark album (for Smith), more like he worked too hard on it; and Smitty's ongoing theme of "self esteem" sounded more like the urgings of a high school coach "don't just run, run faster."
Change Your World is still about spiritual and emotional healing through godly self-esteem, and about finding friends that affirm you in your value system but this time it all feels so much more natural. In "Picture Perfect," Smith sings what could have been your basic, wholesome high school love song, but writers Smith and long-time co-writer Wayne Kirkpatrick head for the charming chorus, "You don't have to be picture perfect/To be in my world/You don't have to be picture perfect/To fit the frame."
Smith and Kirkpatrick then come from the other side with "Somebody Love Me," as Smith sings from the perspective of someone who feels unloved: "Its like wanting to sing/But needing a song/When will I hear the music playing." To the songwriters credit, they don't attempt to answer the problem with a cheap phrase or with God loves you, that's enough. Loneliness is real, and Smiths sympathy is refreshing.
Though Change Your World isn't a banner-waving platform, Smiths faith is still integral to his music: "Give It Away" and "Cross of Gold" are both clear statements of where his foundation lies. The former is an anthem that should do well on Christian radio, with its conclusion, "Love isn't love until you give it away." And "Cross of Gold" could very well be the focal point of the whole album: musically, because its a solid jam; lyrically, because it calls the holy rollers out on the carpet "Is it a flame/Is it a passion or is it a game/Religion in fashion." In the bridge, electronic whispers float over the music, "Is it decoration or proclamation? For some it's just something to wear around your neck it means a lot more than that to me."
There's also a duet with Amy Grant "Somewhere Somehow," which may confuse some. It's a song about distant loves, a kind of romantic equivalent to "Friends." And then there's another love, the spunky "I Wanna Tell the World," which Smith wrote for his wife (with help from writers Heimermann and dc Talks Toby McKeehan).
The big finale, though, is a fresh look at "Friends," which is celebrating 10 years. While the first recording, primitive by comparison, may accent the wistfulness of parting friends, the new recording is a big sounding anthem that will no doubt become a tear-jerker for a whole new arena of fans.
When someone has as much to lose as Smith, its exciting to see him make a project this fun and natural. Some fans may pass on this one Lord bless 'em, they don't just want the seed, they wasn't all the fertilizer too but Change Your World could certainly plant the seed of the Gospel with listeners everywhere.
And, just as importantly, here's an album by a Christian that you can play for any of your friends. Because, when you're a kid, you don't want art, you want something to listen to and it could change your world. -- Chris Well (c) 1992 CCM Communications, Inc.