New Boy Bland
The Times, UK
March 18, 2003
By Geoff Brown
Classical CDs:
Josh Groban is overhyped, but he's not all bad, says our critic.
Jose Carreras, however, ought to know better.

Josh Groban: Josh Groban (3 out of 5 stars)
Jose Carreras: Complete Passion (2 out of 5 stars)

Just when you thought it was all right to take a nap the publicity drums start thumping again. There’s a new songbird in town — Josh Groban — he’s American, curly-haired, almost 22, a chart-topper in the States, and he’s the new this and that.

He’s the new Andrea Bocelli. Or the male Céline Dion, which would certainly be new. He’s pop-rock with classical crossover and New Age influences. On his debut CD he duets, lucky man, with Charlotte Church; he sings "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring," with an orchestra heated up by an electric guitar. Oh my God, I hear you cry, could he be the new Russell Watson too?

Actually no. Opera warbling and mauling form no part of his repertoire or pretensions; the bulk of this CD (WEA 9362-48154-2) consists of pop-slanted ballads, in Italian, Spanish and English, dressed to the nines in arrangements by Groban’s manager and guru, David Foster. No dedicated classical fan would give it the time of day, or is being asked to. Yet the CD is still worth noting as a sign of how classical vocabulary, diluted and debased, so easily slips into pop-rock.

And Groban’s voice? You may have heard and seen him in an Ally McBeal episode, playing a high-school student who took Ally to the Prom. Dashed handsome, yes. Lovely curls. But no matter what his brand of music, shouldn’t he express more feeling?

Consider his account of Don McLean’s "Vincent." Though attractive enough round the softer edges, Groban’s voice has a hard, dull centre, and it flattens the beauty right out of this song. Had he sounded looser, less classical, you could almost say, he would surely touch more hearts. He would also blend better with Charlotte Church. What an odd match they are in the last track, "The Prayer": a lead pipe duetting with a meringue.

Still, Groban’s CD delivers its goods more winningly and honestly than José Carreras’s Complete Passion, a monument of classical kitsch (Warner Classics 0927 49498-2). When you listen to Groban’s "Alla luce del sole" you can bathe in romance and easy listening. But what are your options as Carreras gets his lips round Liszt’s third "Liebestraum," reinvented as "Come Take My Heart"? There are two: the eject button, or laughter.