Having a tendency to loathe artists who come with extra lashings of hype, I approached Josh Groban with some trepidation. “The world’s biggest selling debut artist of 2002” was discovered after standing in for Andrea Bocelli at a Grammy Awards Presentation rehearsal in a duet with Celine Dion. Oops – just found two more reasons to be wary.
I don’t belong to the school that finds Andrea Bocelli and Russell (The Voice) Watson admirable just because they can belt out a few operatic arias despite having little or no training. Josh Groban, though, really does have a voice, and despite being only 21, it is a voice of astounding maturity.
If he were to drift towards classical opera he would probably be a lyric baritone, and he apparently is toying with the idea of going in that direction. In the meantime, he’s playing with lush, romantic ballads and, it has to be said, doing it awfully well.
That first duet with Celine Dion had consequences, as he now shares her producer David Foster – also responsible for Whitney Houston and Barbara Streisand. You can imagine the sound therefore – wildly over the top, strings everywhere, melodrama in spades. Opening track Oceano has key changes that make it sound very like Celine’s most famous moment – My Heart Will Go On – only deeper. And in Italian.
A good percentage of the tracks are sung in Italian, including Mi Mancherai from the film Il Postino and the lovely Per Te. This is very clever marketing – not only do these songs make him sound terribly romantic to English speakers, but I predict that the Italian market will go wild for Groban if it hasn’t done so already. There’s nothing Italians like better than a good dose of syrup and he can outsing any of their home-grown balladeers. He looks better, too.
One of the lovliest songs is in Spanish – Si Volvieras A Mi – where the production is relatively subtle and includes some atmospheric acoustic guitar; Hymne A L’Amour shows off his French accent.
When the lyrics are in English they tend to be of the weepy type (My Confession, Broken Vow, When You Say You Love Me) but it’s difficult to be churlish when they are sung so beautifully. Remember When It Rained is one of three songs written by Groban. “Tears of hope run down my skin / tears for you that will not dry / they magnify the one within / and let the outside slowly die…” I’ve heard a lot worse from people older and theoretically wiser, and this is one of the most affecting songs on the album.
The cover You Raise Me Up is pure schmaltz – interesting to see there’s a version by Irish crooner Daniel O’Donnell being released on the same day. One of the most interesting tracks musically is another Groban has at least part written – Never Let Go, which is much less sugary while still providing a vehicle for emotion. This bodes well for the future – if he can break away from the Foster school of over-egging he could be more than just a terrific voice.
How do you categorise this stuff? “I’ll find it in the classical section in one place, I’ll find it in the pop section in the other place, I’ll find it in the rock section somewhere else. I’ll find it in easy listening,” says Groban. Whoever put it in rock needs their head examining, but whatever, if you like a bit of lush romanticism or you’re looking for an uncontroversial present for your mother, give it a go.