That Seth MacFarlane has seen fit to record an album of Big Band Swing numbers shouldn’t really surprise anybody. The creator of Family Guy and American Dad has populated his cartoons with big song and dance numbers; indeed they’re quite often the most sincere moments of the episodes in which they appear. Clearly MacFarlane’s affinity for jokes about necrophilia, race, rape and giant chicken fights is as strong as his love of Rat Pack style crooning.
There are no gags on this album whatsoever; MacFarlane plays it straight down the middle, which results in a record that serves as a perfectly realised homage but offers little in terms of innovation. Collaborating with Joel McNeely (one of the composers on American Dad), was a wise move, and his arrangements are spot on, emulating the best big bands of the ’50s without overplaying it at all. MacFarlane works his way through a series of tunes indebted to Frank Sinatra and his cohorts, although his selection policy is rather inspired in that these songs were never recorded by the Pack. But there’s no getting away from those comparisons, and the inspiration is all too clear. Of course, recording the whole shebang at Capitol Records Studio (in analogue no less) and using Sinatra’s microphone means that the whole thing leans towards hero worship a little.
There’s no doubting that Macfarlane has got the voice for easy listening swing. He’s got warm tones and switches between the sentimental and joyful moments with ease, and he’s clearly having a blast knocking out the likes of It’s Anybody’s Spring or You’re The Cream In My Coffee. However, for those with even a passing familiarity with Family Guy it’s a little like being serenaded by Brian The Dog, which at times provides a severe obstacle to taking MacFarlane seriously. It’s hard to have a tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes without a little sentimentality creeping in and there’s plenty of that on display too. On Two Sleepy People MacFarlane duets with Norah Jones, and a fine union it is, although its laid back swing doesn’t really allow for any vocal dynamism. It’s Easy To Remember finds MacFarlane in reflective mood, and although it is perfectly delivered with delicate string arrangements, it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
There’s really very little to criticise about Music Is Better Than Words. MacFarlane possesses a fine crooner’s voice and clearly knows what is expected of him. His band creates the Big Band vibe with consummate ease; frankly, they’re perfect. Ultimately though, there’s little more going on here than a finely honed facsimile of swing. At its best it’s a wonderful homage, at its worst it’s a vanity project. It’s a bit of fun for MacFarlane, and it’s hardly a chore to spend a little time in its presence. And at least he didn’t decide to record Surfin’ Bird.