My first reaction coming when listening to Josh Groban’s Awake album is to feel excited about Groban’s more explorative approach in vocalizing songs in this album. Compared to previous albums, Awake is a fresher version of Groban incorporating various different music blends. Although at first the approach sound unsteady and experimental, but this re-coloring of style is becomes very positive in the sense that it adds new flavors to Groban’s old, motionless style. The freshness makes Groban an artist more to expect from in the future.
Previously Groban is labeled as ‘popera’ singer, a blend of pop music and opera music, sailing his international stampedes of the opera-music renewal through his debut number You Raise Me Up. He stands as the young generation of opera-legends-transforming-pop such as Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman, or the recently deceased Luciano Pavarotti. Groban is very likely setting a trend for youths to approach opera music, as he might be one of the beacons contributing to Simon Cowell’s inspiration of forming a boyband singing opera-genre songs, Il Divo.
Groban very much establishes the pop and opera essence of his songs in his two previous albums. Take a look at hits like To Where You Are, When You Say You Love Me, and My Confession, or Oceano, representing songs in these albums – a bi-vector approach is thickly coloring these numbers: approach of classic romance pop; and a full classic music, densely Italian classics, and gospel. Groban has the trademark of sporting a thinner version of opera music which although steps out of classic opera requirements, but correlates better to larger room of audiences.
Groban wittily serves us platters of fusion appetizer and desserts while keeping the entrées traditional. The reason to this is that the explorative songs appear in both the beginning and ending of the album, while the middle of the album goes fairly Groban-conventional, in the sense of thick opera essence and less voyage outside of the comfort zone. His seesighting into a wider scope of musical diversity comes as early as the first two tracks of the album. Mai, the opening number, greatly opens the collection with considerable Oriental tinges coming from the Asian brass hits within its colossal, orchestral arrangement. You Are Loved, the second track, thanks to the drums/percussions embedded in the song with an escalating fashion, can’t help making you associate its arrangement with modern alternative colors such as lines of Coldplay or Keane.
Un Día Llegara and L’Ultima Notte, respectively third and fifth track, remains traditionally popera, a musical composition comparable to conventional Groban’s such as Mi Mancherai, Per Te or Remember When It Rained. February Song is another conventional one, although its lightness takes the song fully into the ever-prospering bunch of poplets.
Although classic in terms of song arrangement and progression, both So She Danced and In Her Eyes (track #6 and #7) employ a level of appreciable uniqueness. So She Danced is fusing chimes of xylophones, twinkles, and strings that together create a celestial-woody dreamlike feel – a feel familiar to arrangements of Square’s Final Fantasy soundtrack; most in courtesy of Nobuo Uematsu. In Her Eyes plays with surreal, irregular rhythm that contributes mysteriousness to the song, shifted for a moment into a violin-summoned uplifting grandeur as a climax in the later part of the song, then reverberated down into an anticlimactic fade-away.
Solo Por Ti’s feathery taste comes from the acoustic guitar accompaniment, warmed by accents of brass and strings here and there in a progressive manner – a nice refreshment and slow-down from the full-vocal-powered numbers playing consecutively earlier. Afterwards, Now or Never is constructed with a semi-ethnic alternative vibes; something that leans towards music of The Corrs. Un Giorno Per Noi, from Romeo e Giulietta, is, as suggested from its name and where it became a soundtrack, essentially an aria: story-telling, classic arrangements/progression, and huge vocals – although in its arrangement Groban’s style of pop, again, took the steering wheel and drives weightlessness, which is what then becomes of the aria.
This point forward, Groban’s music becomes even journeys farther outside of Groban’s comfort zone. The collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo (in track #11 & #12) and Herbie Hancock (in track #13) might contribute largely to this. Eleventh track is Lullaby, a very buoyant a cappella song that reminisce to artists such as Simon & Garfunkel or Kings of Convenience, besides also being ecclesiastical in its choral composition.
Weeping, track #12, is my personal favorite of the album. Fundamentally, this song separates itself from any of previous Groban’s number. A Dave-Koz/Kenny.G kind of jazz with Eric-Clapton-ish guitar play dye the song into an airiness very new to be found in Groban’s usually serious music. The freshness, even accented with some new-age, jungle, indigenous-tribe chants in the middle of the song, adds a Lion King kind of flavor. There’s this fun mood in the song that goes back to great soulful artists like Billy Joel; by far, this is Groban’s song that has the biggest amount of cheeriness and groove.
When Weeping went human with light jazz and some jungle touch, Groban then goes even deeper into soul in the last track of the album, Machine. Think hardcore funk from deep in the 80s. Think slick soul from Marvin Gaye. Think some infusion of Stevie Wonder meets John Travolta in Grease. The trumpets jazzily twisting their snarls in the song and with the electric organs playing their 80s disco funk, this song oozes sexiness. Machine, Groban’s sexiest number, is a delight in the sense that it moves a little bit away from Groban’s usually-stiff routines.
The album features two bonus tracks: Verita and Awake. Both of these tracks are somewhat Groban’s average without out-of-the-box concepts whatsoever in either the arrangements or the lyrics of the song. Again we’re thrown back to old Groban routines of huge vocals plus a full orchestral arrangement equals huge songs stiffness, thus less flexibilities. Although these songs have great both vocal and musical quality, unfortunately, they are without edge.
The album Awake offers a relatively wide scale of Groban’s capacity in different music areas. This would generate exciting freshness to Groban’s entrenched fans, at the same time being a likability boost towards people who weren’t that much fond of Groban’s preceding oeuvres. Overall, Groban’s unquestionable singing quality hadn’t quivered in the album thus is always enjoyable. Although a fundamental source of boredom, which is the moderately stagnant lyrical width, had not been as blithely explored as the musical factors, Awake is still an album to fall in love with. Putting in mind the fact that the young church-choir tenor actually went Oriental, jungle, and sexy in the album, wouldn’t it become unaffordable to miss the album?