Prime Cuts: Sovereign Over Us, The One That Really Matters (with Kari Jobe), The Same Power
Though the album cover depicts a cross-legged Michael W. Smith comfortably dressed in soft cotton and a woolen cardigan, "Sovereign" is by no means a down-home acoustic affair as his preceding disc "Hymns" was. Rather, "Sovereign" is such an ultra modern worship album with a big, sleek and polished sound that he could give his younger contemporaries (such as Elevation Worship, Hillsong United) a run for their money. Instead of raising up the age flag and retreating into an oldies act, "Sovereign" is Smith at his competitive best. Further, this is also Smith's debut album for the Capitol owned Sparrow Records after his long tenure with Reunion Records came to an end. And to keep the contemporary wheels in check, Smith has enlisted the expertise of string of CCM's hottest producers such as Seth Moseley (Newsboys, Sanctus Real), Kyle Lee (Natalie Grant, Pocket Full of Rocks), Chris Stevens (TobyMac, Carrie Underwood) and Jeremy Edwardson (Kari Jobe, Jesus Culture).
Although Smith already has three worship albums under this belt, "Sovereign" is a major departure from its predecessors as it does not include any covers. While earlier projects find Smith adding his own Midas touch on worship favorites (such as Hillsong's "Mighty to Save," Paul Baloche and Lenny LeBlanc's "Above All," and Tim Hughes' "Heart of Worship"), "Sovereign" finds Smith listening to over 400 new songs before narrowing them to these 12 contenders. "You Never Let Go," the vanguard single that has spearheaded its way into the top 10, opens with the Smith's patented keyboard riff before layer upon layer of blazing guitar and stadium filling drum are added to this faith affirming anthem of God's prevailing presence.
"Heaven Come Down," with its electronic beats and its cascading electric drum flow, creates a contemporary context for Smith to belt out his ardent cry for God to flood us with His presence. The same phalanx of charging guitars and pounding drums continue to command the march for the next couple of songs, "Miracle" and "Sky Fills Over." Even the pseudo-ballad "All Arise" becomes a battle of the instrumentalists as to who gets to play the loudest. With such a full arsenal of hard hitting sounds, Smith is certainly poised to secure the support of younger fans. And he's has definitely succeeded in bridging the generations. But one somehow feels like Smith has sacrificed his own signature style so that he could sound like the next up and coming Switchfoot or Satellites and Sirens. And to have all these songs bunch together at the front end rather than dispersed throughout the record is also a matter of perplexing mystery.
However, fear not: not all is beyond redemption. The title cut "Sovereign Over Us," which calls to mind "Healing Rain," is a gorgeous ballad with a richly theologically textured chorus that is so catchy that it's hard to resist singing along to. Though sharing the same title and thematic content as Hillsong's "The Same Power," it is a newly written worship mid-pacer that correctly shows us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is more than just a mere historical event of the past. And for fans who like those piano MWS ballads, look no further than Smith's duet with Kari Jobe on the beautiful "The One That Really Matters." Though "Sovereign' suffers from being too eager to accommodate to today's sounds at the front end, yet for those who persevered through the record, they will find that good things come to those who wait.