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The Second Decade - Click to view!It's hardly a stretch to say that the lion's share of artists who came into prominence during the early years of MTV and the Reagan Era have seen their popularity diminish drastically over the last two decades. This being the case, it appears that nobody bothered to tell Michael W. Smith. At a time when the better portion of those who entered the Christian pop arena with Smith have long since seen their work consigned to cut-out bins and out-of-print catalogs, Smith's own career seems to be following a decidedly upward trajectory. Indeed, with 16 Number One singles, 22 Dove Awards, six gold albums and slots at everything from the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service to the Miss America pageant since his first greatest hits collection in 1993, Smith's star has never shone more brightly.

The aptly-titled Second Decade compilation features 12 songs from Smith's last six albums, along with two new tracks and one remake. Entries like "Cry for Love" and "I'll Lead You Home" marry the soaring, full-bodied pop of Smith's 1992 Change Your World release to a more somber, specifically spiritual set of lyrics with gripping results. The thought-provoking title cut from the 1998 Live the Life album finds Smith augmenting his characteristic pop and soft rock with slight psychedelic flourishes, while "Love Me Good" from the same release works as a perfect foil for his more serious-minded material. The sweeping, Civil War-inspired title cut from the all-instrumental Freedom ranks among Smith's most distinctive work to date. And "You Are Holy" and "Above All" from the recent Worship and Worship Again projects mark a return of sorts to time-honored classics like "Great Is the Lord" and "Emmanuel."

In fairness, the collection does leave out a few chart-topping hits ("Jesus is the Answer," "Let Me Show You the Way") and key album tracks ("I'll Be Around," "Agnus Dei"), which renders it just shy of definitive. Conversely, new songs "Raging Sea" and "Signs" are largely nondescript entries that could have been omitted in favor of stronger existing material. And the star-studded "Friends 2003" remake is, more than anything, superfluous. That said, the aforementioned lapses are far more the exception than the rule. And, with a running time of nearly 70 minutes, most listeners will be hard-pressed to dwell too heavily on the anthology's occasional missteps. For those with even a passing appreciation of inspirational pop music, particularly that of the last ten years, The Second Decade is essential listening, offering a generous, well-balanced latter-day overview of one of Christian music's most important and influential performers.
- Bert Gangl
February 2004

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