Guilty pleasures: Josh Groban – Closer (2003)

by Mark Saleski

I pride myself on knowing a fair amount about music. Of course, what this really means is that I’ve spent way too many hours sitting around listening to records — while no doubt thumbing through some rock publication … Rolling Stone, Creem, etc.)

What you might not know is that I’m also quite the opera buff. Oh yes, it’s true. Here are some of my all-time favorite moments in the genre:

—Charles Winchester (during an episode of M*A*S*H) tries to spend a moment of solitude by listening to some Caruso in the swamp
—Wilhelmenia Fernandez sings the aria from Catalani’s “La Wally” in the movie Diva
—”Sword & Magic Helmet”
—Cecilia Bartoli doing Mozart Arias on an “All Things Considered” radio segment
—Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten,” which is the one and only opera I’ve seen live

What does this have to do with our young Mr. Groban? Well, let’s just say that while I’m no expert, I know a good voice when I hear one. Like his female counterparts Charlotte Church and Sarah Brightman, Groban gets a lot of bad press from the “real opera” folks for being a pretender: his music not being ‘pure’. So what?! There are moments of beauty on this record (“Il Postino,” for one) that should not be dismissed because Groban isn’t the “real thing.”

Sure, most of Closer doesn’t contain traditional opera. I’m not sure what some of it is. There’s no easy pigeonhole for opera-tinged vocals mixed with orchestration, Spanish guitar, percussion and rock drumming. No matter. The Italian songs are romantic and engrossing. The tunes sung in English don’t do as much for me, edging a little too close to Celine Dionisms. There’s even one selection done in French (“Hymne a L’Amour”). Rounding out the programme is the world-ly “Never Let Go,” done with Deep Forest.

Maybe not an earth-shattering collection of songs here, but the voice is definitely there.

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