Josh Groban Gets Closer to Perfection
By Tiffiny Kaye Whitney, Teen Correspondent
DISCLAIMER: This review covers the internet special edition of Closer; not all of the tracks mentioned are included on the regular store version. Those looking to purchase the regular edition should note that the internet special edition is merely an extension of the original, including a hardcover case and DVD. The reviewer's personal opinion is that the internet special edition is worth the extra expense.
Musician Chris Opperman has a track on the album "Klavierstücke" entitled "...As If It Were Made of Glass," a graceful piano solo that moves as delicately as a skater across a frozen pond. Just as beautiful as that piano work, singer Josh Groban, too, has a voice as seemingly crystaline and pure. Armed with one set of amazingly powerful vocal chords, Groban takes audienecs with his newest album, Closer, across that frozen lake.
Just a kid from California when he began, Groban's ascent to fame was nearly immediate, having been discovered by world-renowned producer, David Foster, subsequently making several appearances on Fox's “Ally McBeal,” the “Rosie O'Donnell Show,” and singing selections from his 2001 self-titled debut at the 2002 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In addition, Groban’s debut album went platinum–three times. Now, after his fame has mushroomed at a nearly overnight speed, Groban has finally released a sophomore effort. Closer, according to joshgroban.com, is the artist himself creating an album that will not only bring his fans closer to him as a person and artist, but also move closer to the realization of who, and what, he is musically.
Setting sail with the perfect introductory “Oceano,” Groban's album is as eclectic in its musical style and selection as it is in languages. His songs range linguistically along a colorful spectrum of classical Italian, Spanish, French, and English, and even a bit of blending, such as in the seductive English/Spanish ”Mi Morena.'” Amazingly, the well-versed singer seems to glide effortlessly between the four, with only a bit of trouble on his French cover of the famous Edith Piaf's “Hymne A L'Amour,” a slight accent coming through in his first recorded attempt at a French selection. Regardless, the effort to sing with such accuracy in languages other than his native English is something to be applauded.
Groban also has an uncanny ability to capture a range of emotions in these foreign titles that would be hard enough to fully comprehend at his young at age of 22, let alone in a foreign language. He ambitiously tackles the Italian ‘Mi Mancherai (Il Postino),' in which his voice floats in a despondent tone of lost love, complimented and enhanced by superior violin accompaniment provided by Joshua Bell. ‘Per Te,' a defining example of Groban's vocal range in which his voice evolves from a soft quietness to a swelling chorus, full of emotion, is a reflection on the same passion evident in the Spanish ‘Si Volvieras A Mi.' Groban hasn't just guessed at what's being described in his songs, either. A translation of each foreign title yields the realization that Groban captures emotion across cultures and languages, injecting the human spirit into each of his works. The young vocalist challenges material that might be considered difficult for some of the most mature of singers, and succeeds in his endeavors.
While Groban is extremely versatile in the romantic languages, he seems to reveal himself most in his English selections. This is likely in part due to the fact that he contributed to several of them. While lyrically and musically simplistic, these songs have a formula that is effective and moving. Their circular pattern allows for variety within the song that not only keeps the listener interested, but also lifts them from one emotional extreme to the other. The formula is heard in ‘You Raise Me Up,’ an uplifting song that sounds Irish-gospel and is Groban's first single from this album. We also see this in the Groban-written tune (with the help of Eric Mouquet on the music) ‘Remember When It Rained.'
Fans will find that there are several differences between Closer and Groban's debut album. The first is that while subtle, an obvious difference can be heard in the singer's voice from the freshman to sophomore album; it is stronger, more confident, and more mature. Another difference is style. While both albums feature romantic Italian ballads and a soothing mellow approach, there is quite a bit more diversity to Closer that makes it appealing to every audience.
The final difference that adds a great deal to Closer is Groban's own contribution to the album in more than just vocals. Groban stretches on Closer by showing a side that audiences did not see in the 2001 debut. In addition to playing instrumentally here (such as keyboards in ‘My December,'), Groban wrote both lyrics and music for several tracks. This adds an enormous amount of legitimacy to his work in terms beyond vocal talent and ability. One of the strongest tracks on the entire album is “Remember When It Rained,” a song which he wrote and plays piano in; one wonders why it was not the first single to be released. It is powerfully moving in its raw and poetic emotion, despite fairly simple lyrics, and suits his voice perfectly (after all, who knows his limitations better than himself?). Other songs appearing on the album which Groban either wrote or contributed to include “Per Te” (impressive, as the song is entirely in Italian), and “Never Let Go” (which also features Deep Forest).
Groban has said that Closer was an attempt to keep some of the elements that hooked fans on the first album, but to add a new strain. Certainly, Groban is heading in a new direction musically. He takes risks on this album by diverging from traditional classical and delving into the slow tango with the nylon guitar of ‘Mi Morena,' the ballad-like pop/rock ‘Remember When It Rained;' and, most impressively, a cover of alternative metal band Linkin' Park's ‘My December,' in which Groban also plays keyboards. It is unfortunate that this track is available only on the internet special edition, as the effort is pulled of well and even rivals the original. Also, ‘All'Improvviso Amore' is a new sound for Groban in its energetic nature. It follows more closely to contemporary Sarah Brightman, such as in her "A Question of Honor" in its theatrical style.
Closer brings Josh Groban...well...closer to perfection. With one of the most astounding voices in music today, and a songwriting talent, Groban is a shoe-in to join in the ranks of musical legends. He captured the hearts of millions with his first album, sold out every date for his upcoming 2004 tour, and can only get better. The so-so covers of ”Hymne A L'Amour” and Michael Jackson's ”She's Out Of My Life,” would give the album three and three fourths stars...but for the sake of being ‘closer' to a round number, Josh Groban's excellent second effort is a solid four.
Closer Track Listing (1-13 available on in-store edition, 14-17 on Internet Special Edition)
2. My Confession
3. Mi Mancherai (Featuring Joshua Bell)
4. Si Volvieras A Mi
5. When You Say You Love Me
6. Per Te
7. All'Improvviso Amore
8. Broken Vow
10. Remember When It Rained
11. Hymne A L'Amour
12. You Raise Me Up
13. Never Let Go (With Deep Forest)
14. Mi Morena (also on the Special Edition)
15. She's Out Of My Life (also on the Special Edition)
16. You're The Only Place (exclusive to Internet Edition)
17. My December (exclusive to Internet Edition)