by Sarah Brightman, classical (2003)
Angel, $18.98, ASIN B00008W2QZ

This latest thematic CD from Sarah Brightman is set to the sultry richness of the Middle-Eastern culture. Or so it wishes to. You can either see this effort as a pretentious peacecakes-Middle-East-people-are-people-too pacifism effort or a genuinely sincere attempt at musical reconciliation, but me, I'm more concerned by the complacence of Brightman's production theme. After Eden and La Luna, the tracks on Harem are starting to sound tired in their familiarity. Sarah Brightman is suffering from the Enya syndrome, I'd suspect.

As usual, Ms Brightman takes either original or familiar covers of pop tunes (It's A Wonderful World, It's A Beautiful Day) and mix in classical elements (It's A Beautiful Day is backed by the aria Un Bel Di from Madama Butterfly) or new age trance elements (It's A Wonderful World). There is a delicacy in the gentle, comfortable melodies of tracks like What You Never Know, and Until The End Of Time, but Ms Brightman's monotonous way of pushing her falsetto into a pitch that's often more discordant than calming often ruins the enjoyment. If she has reined in her soprano warbling, these songs will be the music to listen to when one's nerves are raw.

It is only when she shakes things up a little - by introducing beautiful Arabic muezzin by Ofra Haza in Mysterious Ways and Kadim Al Sahir in the best track of the bunch, The War Is Over - does Harem becomes the musical escapade into the exotic Middle-East that it wanted to be. Brightman's collaboration with Sophie B Hawkins in Free (also reprised in French as Guéri De Toi - really beautiful, the melody of this one) is also a pleasant surprise, heck, it is a vintage Hawkins song about love lost and melancholy. I have a feeling that Hawkins' sultry voice will do justice to the beautiful chorus much better than Ms Brightman's forced-sounding soprano ever could though.

For a thematic album straddling both genres of conventional dance pop and New Age pretensions, Harem isn't a bad album. Musically, melodically, this album is really, unbelievably gorgeous, and there are moments when the orchestra can soothe even the rawest nerves. My only disappointment is that the production, the reliance on synthesizers, and the overprocessing of Ms Brightman's voice reduce this album's musical value, rendering a sameness throughout every song in this album as well as the last two Brightman thematic albums. I'm one of the listeners who love Ms Brightman's voice, but I wish she will really surprise me with her next thematic CD.

Rating: 83

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