Grieving the loss of a loved one is an inevitable reality this side of heaven, but it's rare to find a concept album fully devoted to exploring its wide array of emotions. That is what we're presented with in singer/songwriter Michael J Tinker's When There Are No Words. I'll admit, I was both hesitant and eager to write this review, as I've had my own bout with grief, losing my father over ten years ago, and the thought of potentially revisiting those feelings through the mind of one newly experiencing them is a sobering idea. Yet, I think this album could be a help to those in similar situations. Over the years, I've found that leaning in to the memories, sadness, and hope for heaven is usually the right response to the sadness, as Tinker yieldingly agrees with in "Speak Softly", "It's ok to weep/from the depth of your soul/It's ok to not know how in the world You can go on." Throughout this heartbreaking experience, Tinker pulls no punches delving into the punishing depression losing a parent can bring. Nothing proves this more than the drastic change of timbre from the rest of Tinker's discography, which was mostly playful children's albums and fictional storytelling, to this soft, nostalgic, melancholic diary of a broken man. However, a beautiful ray of confidence shines throughout, confidence both for the present, and more explicitly for the resurrected future.
A light acoustic guitar runs throughout "I Hear You Speak My Name," and it's telling that Tinker begins on such a somber note, choosing this song as a sort of transitional piece. A subtle chord change near the end halts his sadness to realize his father is now in the presence of the Lord, "I'll hear you speak my name/well done good and faithful one/welcome home my son." Tinker's voice is on the verge of tears throughout the album, and while there's a certain charm in the unpolished nature of it all, it may be a turn-off for some. There are pockets of the lighthearted sonics Tinker is accustomed to in the bluesy "Come Sit With Me," the poppy "Show Me The Light," and the memory-driven "The Best Candy Floss In The World." This track was the hardest track for me to stomach, though it's the happiest of them all, as it details a night on the town alone with his father; the kind of times you miss the most.
The rest of the album follows a similar palate, beginning songs with sadness and questions, and ending by grounding grief in the reality of the resurrection, where he will see his father again, and all will be made well. One of the best representations of this is "There's An Empty Chair," as it begins mourning the loss of the across-the-table friendship he once had, to the perspective of a heavenly table, at which his father awaits him, "There's another empty chair/in a far, far land/I'll join you at the table/you will take me by the hand." My favorite track would be the title cut, as the chorus is the catchiest of the bunch, and the lyrics nail the feeling of speechlessness that comes from losing a loved one... "But I'll laugh through the tears/and I'll walk through the fears/and I'll live in the face of death/but it's so hard to sing/when there are no words."
Throughout the album I was reminded of C.S. Lewis' fine treatment of the afterlife in his various writings, so it was no surprise to hear a passage from The Last Battle in closing number "The Tree." Beginning softly, it ends to an alt-rock flurry, as Tinker embraces the glories of the afterlife, where "I'll see the Father's smile/and feel his warm embrace/I will know that I am loved/I will know that I am safe."
While I can't say this album captivated me fully musically, it did emotionally. Tinker wears his heart on his sleeve, yet his words, while practical, are filled with nuance and poetic imagery. If gripping surrender had a soundtrack, When There Are No Words is it. If you have gone through a similar experience, or are interested in hearing the story of someone who has, this is worth a listen.- Review date: 5/7/23, written by Joel Zaloum of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: None
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