Showing posts with label operatic pop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label operatic pop. Show all posts

Monday, June 16, 2014

album review: 'hebrews' by say anything

About a year ago, just about a month before I converted my blog to videos, I took a request to do a retrospective review of In Defense Of The Genre by Say Anything. Widely heralded as one of the strongest emo bands to break in the 2000s, Say Anything rode the tremendous success of ...Is A Real Boy into their 2007 release, an overloaded, messy, and thoroughly interesting record co-opting every variant and subgenre of emo music popular at the time and throwing it in our faces. It was ambitious, swollen with collaborators, and while I'd argue it didn't really work as a cohesive whole, it was still compelling and definitely worth a listen.

But ever since that one-two punch from the mid-2000s, I've had the frustrating feeling that Say Anything might be falling into a holding pattern, The band has long ago stopped being a traditional punk act, to the point where their 2012 release Anarchy, My Dear felt distinctly underwhelming as the band attempted to recreate the visceral emotions that fueled ...Is A Real Boy to very mixed results. And when I heard that Say Anything was following it up with another collaborator-overloaded album this year titled Hebrews, I had to restrain my desire to groan with exasperation. Unlike some fans, I didn't hate Anarchy, My Dear, but my issue was that it felt distinctly neutered and lacking in dramatic force compared to Say Anything's best work, especially considering that they were trying to make a punk record and yet sounded more tame and reserved than ever before.

And when I heard that not only was Hebrews going to be filled with collaborators, but that there would also be no guitars on the album, with the melody lines entirely replaced by strings arrangements and keyboards... well, I'm in favour of bands experimenting, so out of sheer curiosity, I took a look at the album. Was it as bad as I feared?

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?