Showing posts with label josh groban. Show all posts
Showing posts with label josh groban. Show all posts

Thursday, May 14, 2015

video review: 'stages' by josh groban

And that nearly takes care of my backlog. One more album that I might tackle this weekend, but first Billboard BREAKDOWN. But before then... zzz...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

album review: 'stages' by josh groban

It seems like I've been breaking a number of 'rules' that I've traditionally held for myself, and today it looks like we're going to be tackling one of the biggest examples of that. Because everyone who begged me to cover Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett's Cheek To Cheek last year and who were put off that I really didn't have any interest are probably going to be exasperated I'm covering this - because hey, wasn't his rule that he didn't cover albums of covers?

But in the lead-up to this record, I began wondering why that is. After all, I'll talk about covers when they appear on an album, and there are plenty of examples where a well-positioned cover is just as thematically appropriate. Not really the case when you have a selection of Broadway covers put together by a classically trained operatic pop artist who is more well-known for his jawdropping vocal talents than his songwriting, but it could work. And let's be honest here: I knew Lady Gaga would do a fine job with Tony Bennett - Gaga's done that sort of material before, she's got classical training - but it didn't interest me in the same way, and after listening to the album a few times, I realized I had nothing I could really say about it, outside of it sounding exactly what I expected it would.

This is slightly different for two reasons, the first being Josh Groban himself. I'll admit that I like the guy: his material has never had stunning depth, but the man has the pipes, charisma, and power to elevate less-than-stellar writing, and I hold that his more complex 2010 record Illuminations - that had a Nick Cave cover of all things - is actually pretty damn excellent. My issue with him is that I've always wanted to see his material with a little less polish, see him get a little more visceral, challenge that incredible voice of his and test his emotional range. Now some of you might think that doing an album of Broadway covers might be flying in the exact opposite direction of that, but look at the shows he chose: Phantom of the Opera? Les Miserables? Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd? And - of course - a track from my favourite musical Chess? Sure, we're not crossing that many boundaries, but there's enough material to push Groban, and I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. That said, I didn't exactly have high expectations, and I'll admit the theater geek in me comes down hard on musical adaptations, so what did Josh Groban deliver with Stages?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

album review: 'all that echoes' by josh groban

In my list of the Top 10 Best Songs of 2012, I made the comment that there are certain acts called 'silent majority', which are acts that get hugely popular, but never quite attain the level of critical acclaim or rabid fandom that others do. This is a strange affliction that commonly hits soft rock acts, typically those that lack a distinctive personality and authorial voice. You know, like Coldplay and Foster The People. Now, the label can be disingenuous - often times these acts have a fair bit of personality hiding beneath the surface, but most casual music listeners aren't going to dig deep enough to find that. However, society and the critics aren't always wrong: sometimes acts get big without really having a lot to say or all that much meaning behind them (looking at you, Mumford & Sons!).

And if there was one act that really epitomizes the 'silent majority act' stereotype, Josh Groban would be it. Now granted, Josh Groban does have a fanbase - typically a bit older and with some significant overlap with the fanbases of Michael Buble and Celine Dion - but it's not the kind of insane fandom that epitomizes the biggest acts. You're not going to find someone who claims that Josh Groban is their favourite artist, and you'll be hard-pressed to call him a critical darling either. 

In fact, Josh Groban's artistic evolution over the past few albums really deserves an examination, because it's a study of an artist learning and trying to write better music. His self-titled debut contained no songs written by him and most were in Italian or French, a tradition that tends to alienate most critics. Most took a bit more notice on his breakthrough album Closer, which still had more foreign-language songs than English ones, but was a better showing of what Josh Groban brought to the table (three of which he had writing credits on), namely an incredible voice and top-of-the-line classical production supporting him. And while his voice was well-liked, his production was criticized for being overly grandoise and with more bombast than substance - which, in my opinion, is a completely fair criticism. Unlike Meat Loaf, Josh Groban's early songs just didn't have enough behind them without the voice and charisma, and while the public was able to overlook that, others couldn't.

Now Josh Groban's third album, Awake, continued a lot of the same trends by Closer (more English tracks), Groban really didn't write much more for it, and while critics were intrigued by more interesting tracks like 'February Song', they still didn't really support the album by any stretch, for most of the same reasons they were lukewarm or cold on Closer.  And even despite Josh Groban working with lots of new producers to fine-tune his production (often times 'shrinking' it, which I'd argue had mixed results), he still hadn't quite nailed the formula that would allow him commercial and critical success. It didn't help matters Josh Groban didn't have the incredible power of a smash single off of Awake like with 'You Raise Me Up' on Closer

So then Josh Groban did something that intrigued me and critics alike: after dropping a pretty solid Christmas album and a fantastic live album, he began taking a much larger role in the writing process of his material. This led to 2010's Illuminations, an album that nearly nailed the sweet spot of critical and commercial success, going platinum and getting some rave reviews. Interestingly, Josh Groban took the approach of writing 'smaller' songs, and in contrast to the overblown vocally difficult epics he was known for, stuck to a more conventional singer-songwriter approach. And while this did deliver some fantastic songs ('Bells Of New York City', 'Higher Window', 'Hidden Away', 'If I Walk Away'), I'd argue his best song 'War At Home' - in my opinion, the best song he's ever written - was easily his biggest and most powerful. 'War At Home', in my mind, is the theme music to the best DC comics never written, and it nails that glorious scope for which Josh Groban's voice is such an apt fit. And really, as much as I liked Illuminations, it was frustrating to see such a personality like Groban confine his scope to such 'small' songs. The critics liked it because the songs were better written, but I think I prefer Groban when he sings big sweeping epics for which his voice is a natural fit. I wanted him to kick the songwriting up a notch, not abandon his larger scope.

And so I had no idea what to expect going into his newest album, All That Echoes. Was I going to see him recapture that epic power backed by his steadily-improving songwriting talents?