A Closer Look at Josh Groban
The Philippine Star
December 8, 2003
By Baby A. Gil
It is always gratifying to learn that a new artist has not only succeeded in his bid for stardom but has also grown in depth and sensitivity. Better yet, he is finding that he has now assured his career longevity by coming out with a thoroughly enjoyable second effort. This I am happy to note, is what has happened to Josh Groban with his new album Closer. If his debut release two years ago was a delicious discovery, his latest is an affirmation of his talent and tremendous audience appeal.

Although Josh did capture the hearts of many as the teen-ager with the voice of the romantic baritones of old, the temptation to dismiss him as just another novelty act never really quite disappeared. Classical singing belongs to Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti so what is this kid doing here? If you say you want something similar but with a pop sensibility, there is always Bocelli to turn to. His Con Te Partiro is pop music through and through. As for the new singing idols, there is also no end to young artists with sex appeal and styles that certainly appeal to buyers of their own age. Think John Mayer, Justin Timberlake and others. So where does all these leave Josh Groban?

Judging from the contents of Closer, it will be in a class all his own.

Produced by David Foster, the album is an opulent, totally dramatic, pull-out-all-the-stops bid for longtime stardom. I have to admit though that it eschews adventure. Josh does not take any risk with his choice of materials. Instead it safely takes the same path as his five million-selling first album. Take some romantic ballads, do them in English or French or Italian or Spanish, balance the familiar oldies with some new works and then make sure that the piano sparkles, the violins weep and that Groban is at his expressive best.

The first single is the grand inspirational You Raise Me Up. I smell a hit but I wish it had less bravura and more of the wistful lyricism of There You Are. The song Mi Mancherai though from the Italian motion picture Il Postino is every bit as sweet and melancholy as Se from Cinema Paradiso in the first album. Josh had the Corrs as guest performers then. This time around he has Deep Forest, the famous world music duo from France. In fact, aside from joining Groban in Never Let Go, Deep Forest member Eric Mouquet also collaborated with him in composing Remember When It Rained and Never Let Go. These two songs plus Per Te written producer Walter Afanasieff mark Groban’s first attempts at songwriting.

The cut that Pinoys will surely be curious about though is another Afanasieff song but co-written with Lara Fabian. This is the bittersweet Broken Vow, the same one first recorded by Fabian, which became a sensation after it was used in the soundtrack of the Chinese soap opera Meteor Garden. Groban performed the song a year ago in his concert video but nothing beats a studio recording if you want heart-rending drama and that is what is proffered in Closer.

I do not know how She’s Out of My Life got into the line-up. It does not seem like a likely choice for Groban but I am so very glad it is in the album. Admittedly, there is no way Josh can top the Michael Jackson original contained in the Off the Wall album. People can say all those awful things they want about Jacko but no one and that includes will not say that Michael’s She’s Out of My Life was one hell of a recording. Listening to the song is like looking at a broken heart laid bare under a microscope and seeing every pain in detail. Groban’s version is nice and intimately confessional but also matter-of-fact. What I want now is to hear him do the song again in a year or two or maybe, even in five.

But She’s Out of My Life is just a small detail and it remains a beautiful song anyway. If you want to hear Groban’s remarkable voice, he now sings new well-rounded tones and his approach his surer, and his interpretation of beautiful melodies then make sure you get Closer.

The other songs in the album are Oceano, My Confession, Si Volvieras a Mi, When You Say You Love Me, All’improvviso Amore, Hymne a l’amour, which many will recognize as the old favorite If You Love Me and the famous tribute to the great tenor Caruso.