on November 23, 2010
I came a little late to the Josh Groban party; he already had three albums out and the Christmas one on the way. I think that may be why changes in style and mood from album to album don't bother, or delight, me as they do fans who've been there from the beginning. I recognize "Illuminations" is a hard right turn away from previous efforts, but there is a lot to enjoy here.
"Hidden Away" and "Higher Window" are real surprises for me; they're simple, beautiful songs, and not unlike the song "Awake" from the album of the same name; however, the melodies are very strong here and the lyrics feel close to home. "Straight to You" is starting to look like my favorite song of his: the interpretation is sublime, the instrumentation inspired, and I like that he stays in mid-range, which reinforces the lyrics of the chorus.
"Voce Existe Em Mim" is the coolest song he's ever done. Had he stuck to the previous albums' formula, this could have had the track 1 spot. Obviously the beat is killer. And do the chords in the chorus sound distinctly...Native American? Even cooler. There are a lot of amazing layers in these songs, some of which require the use of headphones to fully appreciate.
"London Hymn" is where I started to think I understood the underlying inspiration JG was working from. I don't know too much about his musical roots - I know he loves the theater - but it's hard not to think he owns a lot of classical music. When you hear pieces like Rachmaninov's "Vespers" or Sibelius' "Andante Festivo," it's extremely easy to make the transition to "London Hymn" or "Straight to You."
There are other strong songs - "If I Walk Away," "War at Home," "L'Ora Dell'Addio." The French song was just okay for me, as were "Bells of NYC" and "Galileo." He does use quite a lot of falsetto this time around, which is...interesting, and sometimes it's lovely and sometimes I kind of raise an eyebrow... "The Wandering Kind" sounds like Jim Brickman, and I just don't go for that kind of piano music. Something, instead, along the lines of Enya's "A Day Without Rain" would have completely made my day.
While I understand the frustration of the fans who were hoping for a different style and selection of songs, some of the highly negative reviews here are just silly. One reviewer said it was the worst singing they had heard, maybe ever? If that is the case, whatever criteria they are using is so far from the realm of actual musical adjudication as to be basically worthless. Even his most over-eager fans are still right: he has one of the best voices, period. It doesn't help anyone to demean him for the sake of a one- or two-star review.
I applaud him for trying new things, for taking a risk in a new direction, and I feel as though with this album I understand better who he is, as a person and musician. Hopefully he will get the overall sense that this was a success by his definition, and continue to find happiness giving of himself in the coming years.
on November 19, 2010
There seems to be a concerted effort by a number of fans to boost the ratings of this CD by posting glowing reviews, so it's going to be slightly more challenging to decipher what is a genuinely great review and one coming from a fan who would give 5* to a recording of Groban reading the telephone directory. I also presume, therefore, that any reviews that are not favourable will come with a 2/17 people found this review of use attached. All I can say is that if you are considering purchasing this CD, are not a self-confessed music starved Groban fan who is just happy to hear new music after several years, and if you have access to listen to it via a streaming service - take the opportunity to listen to it first before buying it. The mixed reviews really do indicate that this album is polarising listeners and fans, not least because the greater abundance of falsetto that has crept in. You may enjoy it, but I would try before you buy first.
My own personal thoughts --
I will freely admit that I was never a serious fan of the early work Groban did with David Foster and I don't view this as a Foster v Rubin thing, so this isn't a hankering for a return to the older style recordings. In fact, I was eagerly anticipating this album based on what Groban had said about changing direction. He had actively played that up in interviews and the choice of working with Rick Rubin seemed to indicate this, as did his live version of "Changing Colours" which I really do enjoy a great deal and listen to often. However, I don't feel that he's done that. And yet, at the same time, I think he's charged off in many different directions. I just do not know what to make of this album, even after forcing myself to listen to it for a dozen times or so when I'd rather have left it alone. I'm aware that some albums require work to grow on you, hence I wanted to give it a chance, but this isn't happening. Sadly it's the opposite effect and every time I listen, there is a reinforcement of why I do not enjoy it and can't face listening to some of the tracks. The Nick Cave cover? Massive orchestral arrangement. An Italian song? Massive orchestral arrangement. London Hymn? I'm expecting to hear it booming out of Westminster Abbey any time soon and terrifying me with shock. Interspersed with songs that are, I presume, the stripped-down sound Groban was hoping to achieve. To me, it just doesn't flow or have any coherence as an album. I just feel that it's trying to be so many different things, and in doing so it unfortunately misses the mark.
I find the lyrics at times to be simplistic and a bad stereotype of what love is often written as; I honestly believe that Groban, judging from Awake's "February Song", can express a far greater depth of emotion than he does here. Some of the harsher remarks regarding the reactions of laughter at some lyrics that are expressed in some reviews are, I probably can guess, even holding back on saying what they really want to because they have a great respect for Groban and are concerned with being skewered like a kebab by fans. Having said that, I certainly do remain a fan and hope he continues to grow as an artist and experiments musically - even if it sometimes misses the mark.
I can't face giving this one star, because I don't want to relegate it to that level and I genuinely do applaud artists for attempting to push their own boundaries. But I wish I would have waited before ordering the CD - like another reviewer, I can't cancel the order winging its way over the Atlantic. Sadly it's staying in the packaging, to be gifted to someone that I'm probably not that close to.
Edited to add --
I have noticed some commenting regarding what I said about fans posting positive reviews because of a perceived backlash to the album. My comments came as a result of a thread on his official boards, [...], entitled "Be sure to leave a 4 or 5 star review on Amazon.com. The CD could use them." I merely think that people who are not fans, and who are wanting to spend their money on listening to what could be a new artist to them, should hear a balance of opinions. JG fans have (rightly or wrongly) a reputation as being aggressively protective towards him, and whilst all the positive reviews are very clearly not aimed at merely boosting the rating of this album, many of them explaining very honestly and in detail what they like about the music - that thread was sent as a link to many fans, and as such it could have an impact on here. I think it's only fair to point that out and people can then decide for themselves.
on November 15, 2010
Josh Groban has always been a great singer. What is really amazing is that after years of voice lessons he is noticeably better. How could he improve what was already so great? He managed. Everything is clearer, purer, richer, better executed. His lowest notes used to be his downfall & he sometimes struggled with them, but no more. His higher range notes sound more relaxed, more powerful, clearer. Unbelievable. The one oddity, for a near-operatic baritone, is that he relies a great deal on falsetto, which sometimes works well, but not always.
The sound on this album is just crystal clear, clean, awesome. I've never heard anything sound so clean.
Josh wrote 11 of the songs on this album, mostly with collaborators. This is more than he's written before. The songs include quite a bit of variety, with some sounding distinctly classical, others sounding more like folk ballads, and one ("The War At Home") sounding just a little bit country-ish. The lyrics and sound are generally moving and thought provoking.
The album is missing some of the more avante-guarde elements of some of his earlier albums -- and generally comes off as more traditional -- and yet not traditional. His melodies always take unexpected twists. His voice makes unexpected shifts in timbre. Just as you think you're in familiar territory musically, suddenly you're not. But the stuff he did with Mouquet and Heap in the past were more experimental, which is the one thing I really miss on this album, though "Voce Existe in Mim" has a bit of the quality of those prior works of Josh's.
In the past, I saw him as part of an international community of fusionists who were working to fuse elements of all sorts of music together to form new sounds. I saw him as the first mainstream new music composer; but this album isn't like that so much. Its newness is more subtle. It does not really sound like anything else that's been out there before, while not using any exotic elements.
Josh is profoundly creative, one of the most revolutionary forces in music today, a real genius -- one who picks up the torch of classical music and moves it in new directions. And, yet, there is that hypnotic singability of some of the choruses.
Josh considers this to be essentially a "live" album. Many songs were "one take." And, yet, you don't notice. It is all apparently flawless.
Instruments: predominantly piano and strings
Comments about some individual songs -- all having a rich and soaring sound, BTW:
Wandering kind: an instrumental piece composed by Josh when he was 12, with added musicians. Complex, beautiful, cheerful
Bells of New York City: minor, mournful
Galileo: A cover of an Irish song by Declan O'Rourke. This is the one song I find annoying on here. While a pretty song, it takes as its theme bemusement at the idea of a scientist falling in love and not finding a scientific explanation for his feelings. As a scientist, I find this offensive, as it seems to imply that scientists are not naturally human and that it's odd for us to be just like everyone else.
L'Ora Dell'Adio: the most operatic of these pieces. It really show cases the maximum magnificence of Josh's voice. Lyrics in Italian.
Hidden Away: the first released single of which there is an official music video featuring Miss Kentucky 2009. This starts out with a very sweet, pop-like tone, but deteriorates into a sequence with many rough transitions between baritone and falsetto. This is not my favorite one of the songs musically, but it's starting to grow on me. It has a very nice message about trying to be positive and loving, rather than keeping warmth inside.
Au Jardin de sans pourquoi: I find this one particularly beautiful, though he does have a tendency to go back and forth over the same interval a lot. Lyrics in French. one of the few where Josh wrote the music alone, though it's considered a "cover" of another piece, presumably because of the words)
Higher Window: a very beautiful, but sad love song about a man who may have missed his chance after initially rejecting a woman.
If I Walk Away: This is a love song with a very catchy & singable chorus. A fun one.
Love Only Knows: Another one with a very catchy and singable chorus -- very hard to get out of my head, but leaving me with a feeling that this guy is ultimately going to get hurt.
Voce Existe in Mim: This is my personal favorite. It has a huge sound with very unusual sequences, where the voice is not so dominant and the instrumentals are very strong. This is probably the most experimental sounding one, and features a large all female drumming group. Lyrics in Portuguese.
War at Home: This one has a slight hint of country sound. It's about soldiers who have suffered in war. Josh wrote this after a visit to Walter Reed Hospital. It's very, very moving -- very hard to get out of my head. I predict that this is going to be the most popular out of this album.
London Hymn: This is heavy on the instrumentals, with Josh blending in, very orchestral and choral. In Latin.
Straight to You: a cover of a rock song by Nick Cave. Well, if you're a rock fan, you won't like it. If you're a pop/classical fan, you wouldn't like the original and will like this one much better.
After listening to this at least five more times now, I am struck by a pervasive sadness about the thing. It sounds like Josh's love life hasn't been going very well. There is a sense of yearning in all the songs -- of pain, really. Josh is such a clown in his spoken life, and sometimes he wonders why people think he is so serious, but the music sounds very serious, almost grim.
In his "Before We Begin" concert at Union Chapel, Josh explained that "London Hymn" was written in London, shortly after he wrote "The War at Home." It is a sort of quiet requiem piece that has afterthoughts about his visit to Walter Reed Hospital.
In his "Before We Begin" concert in Toronto, Jan. 13, Josh explained that "Au jardin des sans pourquoi" had lyrics written by Rufus Wainwright and his mother, both of whom are or were noted songwriters. though Josh wrote the music . At one of the "Before We Begin" concerts, Wainright came up to ask if the song had made it onto the record. It turned out it was the only song he had written with his mother and she had died shortly thereafter.
I saw a recent interview where Josh said that "If I Walk Away" was written to his parents and other people in his life who keep him grounded -- to encourage them to continue keeping him grounded.
on November 22, 2010
Josh Groban - Illuminations
Release date: November 15, 2010
Sometime around September of 2001 I was introduced to a singer that would proceed to impress me in so many ways. Josh Groban was 20. I was older. I remember calling my son and saying, "You should listen to this guy named Josh Groban. He has an amazing voice." My son responded, "I will check him out, and you should listen to this guy named John Mayer." Nine years later and we are both still listening to and recommending these two artists.
Josh Groban is very hard to define or place into a genre. He is a voice, but he is so much more. Illuminations is his fifth release, and all four prior releases have gone multi-platinum. His last release, Noel, was the number one selling CD in 2007 even though it was not released until October and was a Christmas album.
The three years since this last release have seen many changes for Josh. He chose to head in a different direction with a new management team and new producer, Rick Rubin. Rubin has a resume that is beyond impressive, and artists such as Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica have trusted him. Rubin tends to do things in a way that was not the norm for Josh or his fans and likes to strip the performer down to what Rubin feels is essential for the music.
Change is a bit scary for fans and the `Grobanites' on his fan sites have been concerned about this upcoming release. I shared their concern. I listened to the first three pre-release singles that went to iTunes and his websites and was not a fan of the higher notes of the songs and was afraid that the album was going to be a disappointment. However, after 22 listens over the past three days I can happily say that sometimes change can be a good thing. I was a huge fan of the old Josh. But the new Josh is damn good too. Illuminations will change how Josh is perceived for the rest of his career because it is a game changer.
Josh's fans did not grow up with this type of music from Josh Groban. Josh Groban grew up with this CD.
Josh is about the vocals. However, on this release Josh co-wrote the majority of the songs and proves that he can also write. After Illuminations I honestly believe he will be considered a talented songwriter and will expand his horizons to include not only theatre, TV and concerts but writing lyrics for others. He is that good. This CD is that good. Just turn the stereo up and listen.
The album starts with an instrumental piece, "Wandering Kind," that Josh wrote when he was twelve years old. Josh fans are waiting to hear his voice, but this piece will still impress.
The first vocal piece, "Bells of New York City," makes it clear that this is going to be a very personal release. The lyrics take center stage and paint a very clear picture as "the bells of New York City tell me not to go."
"Galileo" is an exceptionally touching song of love. I can visualize this song in a musical and bringing endless applause. Picture the love of your life, put this song on, feel the passion.
"L'Ora Dell'Addio" is the first of four songs that are not sung in English. However, this was a positive thing because I was not distracted by lyrics and could focus on the music and the voice. Josh's vocal abilities shine. The song made me stand up. It made me pump my fists. If anyone, anywhere, has any question if he has IT in his voice still....YES. HE. DOES. At some point I would like to know what the words of the song mean, but for now I am blown away by its power and beauty.
"Hidden Away," "Você Existe Em Mim," and "Higher Window" can all be heard at [...] or purchased on iTunes. They are very good songs, and I can appreciate them as part of the whole. I give kudos for the way they were released prior to release date as a way of giving fans a preview of what is to come. However, I don't believe that they are the songs this release will be remembered for.
"If I Walk Away." The lyrics and passion of this song are more than I can describe in words. This song is special. You want lyrics? You want instruments? You want meaning? Just listen. The song builds as instruments and backup vocals are added, but it then fades back away which keeps the song personal and intimate. "If I walk away, please follow me."
"Love Only Knows." A big issue that fans had with the first pre-releases was the falsetto voice Josh used in the two English songs. This song begins with the same falsetto. However, it then begins to soar and all memory of the falsetto is wiped away. It totally won me over and the lyrics left me touched. "I can't breathe without you and I know...we need each other." Sometimes words are so much more than they intend.
"War at Home." This song has made me think and listen again and again and again. Each time I listen I find a different interpretation and each one is poignant. I feel this will be a standing ovation song in concert. Its words are inspiring and Josh's delivery is powerful. "You are not alone. You see these hands, they're a billion strong. They are yours now." The song builds with strength and allows Josh to excel at what he does so very well.
"London Hymn" is a choral offering where Josh's strong voice is sometimes overwhelmed by the backup vocals. However, it leads straight into the final song in such a way that I won't be skipping this track because I like the segue.
"Straight to You." A Nick Cave song that finishes this CD perfectly with a message that is worth pondering.
To the all the younger people reading this: buy this CD for your parents if not for yourselves. It. Is. Really. Really. Good.
on December 8, 2010
I have all of Josh Groban's CDs, and I truly thought that I would love anything that he did. I have listened to this CD five times, and try though I might, I just don't like it. The songs are not powerful...not emotional...and he constantly sings in falsetto, even though he has such a powerful and beautiful voice! Most of the songs are just okay...pretty dull...and the lyrics to the one about Galileo are so trite as to be almost comical. There's no flow to the songs. His previous music really wrapped itself around me with it's incredible tonality and beauty. This one is almost painful to listen to. I won't buy any more of his CDs without previewing them.
on November 22, 2010
I've had an interesting time reading the reviews of this new CD by Josh Groban. If people who say "this isn't their Josh Groban" paid attention to the press leading up to this CD, then they shouldn't be surprised. This isn't David Foster's Josh Groban. The grandiose, perfectly mastered songs aren't on this album. Josh and Rick Rubin have clearly stated that this CD was recorded "old style" and in a somewhat different vein that prior CDs. I can see where people say that he doesn't sound good on the CD. To a point I agree. The "less couffed" stylings are much more raw, and at times he does sound like he's working too hard or pitchy. But that's how Josh wanted this CD to sound. That said, I have recently heard Josh sing a lot of these songs live, and on stage they have a much better sound.
As for those that say the songs aren't good, well, for the most part we part ways. There are a few songs that I am not enamoured with. "Au Jardin Des Sans-Pourquoi is not a favorite of mine. "Galileo" is another that I tend to pass on. (Both songs Josh did not write) Sounds too much like songs Josh did early in his career that I was never fond of. This album will have a different feel. Know why? Josh wrote/co-wrote the majority of the songs. They are personal to him. As I saw in a review somewhere else, depending on the prior CD Josh songs you love will dictate how you feel about "Illuminations." There were songs that did take me several listenings to appreciate, but I do think they are well written, and well orchestrated. Many of those songs are my favorites on the CD. "Bells of New York City" is amazing, and "Love Only Knows" is a Groban love song at it's finest.
My best advice, give it more than one listen. It might win you over the more you listen.
on November 30, 2010
I would have given this 2 1/2 stars if I had that option because this CD is somewhere between "Its Ok" and "I don't like it". I really was looking forward to this CD. I have been a Josh Groban fan from the beginning and I love the feeling his music brings to me. I could listen to his voice over and over again for hours.
That being said this CD was a huge disappointment to me. I really, really wanted to like it and I waited a while to give my review hoping some of the songs would grow on me. None of the songs give me chills like Josh's older stuff and I don't like the style he is going towards. I loved what he did with David Foster and yes I wish he would go back to what he does best.
The other comment I have to say is that all the falsetto drives me up the wall. I was not a fan of February song for that reason. I think Higher Window and Hidden Away would be beautiful songs if the falsetto was taken out. It is just too much.
I hope Josh's next CD is back to what he did in his earlier days because he has such a beautiful voice and I'm sure I will have it on preorder like every other one. This is my least favorite CD so far though and for listeners just discovering Josh Groban I would not recommend it.
on January 12, 2014
Josh Groban's album Illuminations is a true treasure. Others have said that Josh's higher register was laughable; I say the contrary. His voice, in its entirety is beautiful. His high notes are as clear and as dulcet as his lower ones. Yes, this album is a departure from his earlier ones, but that doesn't make it bad.
It makes it different. I adore it. The songs are lovely, and the album as a whole tells a story. There is a vein of melancholy sadness that runs through it; a thread of love lost and longing. The lyrics are beautiful, like:
Love Only Knows: Love only knows
If we'll give into fear and choose life under cover
She said love only knows if it's special enough than we'll choose one another
Love only knows, how your arms pull me in like the tide pulls me under
She said love only knows just how long we can run before we lose each other
And we need each other
The Bells of New York: Sing to me one song for joy and one for redemption
And whatever is in between that I call mine
With the street lamp light to illuminate the gray
And the bells of New York City calling me to stay
Galileo(Someone Like You): Who puts the rainbow in the sky?
Who lights the stars at night?
Who dreamt up someone so divine?
Someone like you and made them mine
As for listing favorites; I can honestly say that it's impossible. The songs are all beautiful in their own ways. I could have sat here and gladly typed all the lyrics for every song; they're all so beautiful.
I have written this wordy review in defense of this album. It is worth purchasing. And it is wonderful.
on November 15, 2010
I knew this album was going to be a bit different for Josh, as he parted ways with producer David Foster (Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand) and hooked up with legendary rock producer Rick Rubin (Metallica, Slayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers). I didn't quite know what to expect, because Josh doesn't really have a rock kind of voice. With trepidation, I played the first song...and was pleasantly surprised.
This album IS different than his previous outings, but that's not a bad thing. The songs don't have that "over-produced" sound, with lots of vocal reverb and bounding orchestrations and vocals in the background. Many of these songs are just Josh, a piano, and the occasional subtle violin or guitar in the background. No backing vocals, no blazing productions, just Josh, and his amazing voice. You can even hear the slight imperfections in his voice, and even though subtle, provide for a very real experience by a very talented individual.
Josh wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on this album, thus why most are in english. But the non-english songs are fantastic! Very flowy, musical, and very, very good. There actually isn't a single bad song on this album, but highlights include "Hidden Away", "Au Jardin Des Sans-Pourquoi", "Bells of New York City", and the phenomenal "Higher Window", which was so good it may make you cry.
I highly recommend this album!
on March 1, 2016
For me, this is one of JOSH'S best accomplishments. Have already given two others away as gifts.
This one is different and I love it. Multi talented, gifted and blessed, Josh can do no wrong. So happy
he's trying other things, he can do anything and do it well. The 'tone' of his voice soothes my chronic
pain condition. Settles me down and gets me in a great space. Thanks Josh for sharing your talent and
staying so humble. You are the exception. You deserve only the best, for you always give your best!