Josh Groban
by Josh Groban, pop/classical (2001)
Warner, ASIN B00005RGNI

Okay, so he appeared on Ally McBeal. By right that will mean that he should be consigned to the Halls of Uncool forever. But he does play a cute high school kid, and his voice isn't too bad. Even if his hair looks like turd.

It is a pity therefore that his management is making him follow Andrea Bocelli's career trajectory, ie underutilizing that impressive voice to sing sentimental, melodramatic pap. Heck, most of the songs here are produced by the likes of David Foster and - eek - Richard Marx. Josh Groban is filled with covers of safe, popular tunes any fan of mainstream "New Age" soundtracks (think Ennio Morricone) and ballads will recognize, and hence it will definitely sell well with the Bocelli and Charlotte Church crowds.

His version of The Prayer, a duet with his fellow mainstream "classical" act Charlotte Church, can in fact be seen as a mating of two contrivedly sentimental and saccharine elevator music makers. It's not a pretty sight. Or sound.

As much as I recoil at his shamelessly over-the-top covers of Vincent (Starry, Starry Night), You're Still You, Cinema Paradiso, and too many others, clutching at my insulin bottle as I do so, I must admit there are subversively enjoyable moments.

Seriously, Groban is magic when he croons in Italian. His cover of Alla Luce Del Sole is ethereal, rousing, and divine yet dancey and pop at the same time, it's bloody infectious. His duet with the Corrs in the very acidic Canto Alla Vita (especially for Groban) is stomping good, because Groban and the Corrs seem to be singing two different songs (and language) simultaneously, and the clash of moods make surprisingly beautiful dissonance.

I am ashamed, but I really love his version of Richard Marx's To Where You Are. Maybe it's because this song is used most effectively in the post-Sept 11 Ally McBeal episode, but I never fail to tear up a little at the song's rousing and heartfelt chorus. Using the remote to play this song back to back with the chillingly beautiful rendition of Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring (the violins, the violins, oh!) and you will learn the true meaning of the word catharsis. I actually cried buckets.

Josh Groban is young, but I hope he resists the call to Bocellize himself in the name of fluffy crowd pleasers. His voice is too good to be wasted on mediocre modern radio anthems, and unlike, say, Bocelli, he seems to infuse emotions to his songs. His debut album here trods a fine line between heavenly ear candy and cringe-inducing sentimental pap. At last count, it's roughly fifty-fifty when it comes to pap versus heaven. When he's good, I thought I could hear Groban's own version of heaven. Okay, that's an exaggeration - almost, but damn, even when I try so hard to hate this album, there are enough moments of indescribable beauty to redeem it. Just have the remote at hand to skip the nauseating paps in between the gems.

Rating: 86

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