Operatic Pop, 2004
It is about time that some mercenary mogul handpick some middle-of-conservatory handsome lads to form a boyband. Since Backstreet Boys are so 1990, the marketing twist here will be that the United Benetton lads of Il Divo (all with appropriately European origins, barring the token American, to appeal to the middle-class folks to whom anything not featured on Fox is “exotic” – or if they are even a little vaguely Middle-Eastern, “terrorists”) will be singing pop tunes and some updated bratty versions of Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli. I can imagine the audition now – “What, your name is Richard? No, no, we need a Lars or a Heindreich to convince people that you are all exotic!”
To be fair, the lads of Il Divo do have some pleasant harmonies, although the safe and unimaginative pop elements rarely challenge their abilities. Take a solo, sing the chorus in a derivative four-parts manner, repeat and rinse. While at first it is quite a charming novelty of sorts to listen to Frank Sinatra (badly) Bocelli-ed into a pseudo-operatic anthem, or Toni Braxton’s Unbreak My Heart sung in an overwrought “Woo-woo, we’re in singing Spanish, how exotic! Oooh! OOOOOH!” manner. Then there is Mama, cunningly dedicated to women who would clutch at their hearts through their Josh Groban T-shirts and swoon because Albert, oh Albert, those handsome lads are singing to these women! Going “Ooh! Aah! Mama WOOOOH!” like those whatchacallits on BBC Classical! Listening to this kind of music makes them feel classy, enlightened, in touch with “art”. “Ooh! Aah! Woa-aa-aah! WOOOH!” These women would swoon and write letters to Clay Aiken asking him to duet with Il Divo.
Not that I hold myself any differently from these women, mind you. But my litmus test here is how much these sentimental pop pseudo-classical artists dip into the treacle jar in their repertoire. Fortunately for me, Il Divo’s self-titled debut has plenty of familiar sentimental ballads overloaded with calculated piano and violin bits guaranteed to evoke every stereotype about “romantic Europeans” but these songs never descend into outright cynically-calculated sentimental ballads the way, say, Julio Iglesias made his career from. Thus, this CD is still a very enjoyable listening experience despite coming close to being cloying and too-sentimental. However, it is also unfortunately apparent that none of these handsome lads will stand out as a solo artist. The harmonies are pleasant, but unless they do something to prove themselves instead of sticking to unimaginative tripe designed to send soccer moms into swoons of delight, they will have to be content with being stuck in the envelope labelled “beyond vanilla”. That doesn’t mean they are bad at what they doing, really, it just means that I am embarrassed to no end to say that I like this CD.