Il Divo / Mario Frangoulis
Sony BMG 82876676542
Follow Your Heart by Mario Frangoulis
Sony Classical S/K 92009
by Steven Ang
I have often wondered at why crossover instrumentalists like Bond and Maxim get to make booty-shakin dance music while the vocalists frequently records music often described as soothing, relaxing or to be more specific, zzzzz I suppose the overwhelming popularity of Time to Say Goodbye, the Italian ballad made popular by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, is to blame for creating an entire industry seeking to recapture the hit songs potential. Hence we get CD after CD of semi-operatic vocals accompanied by swelling strings in a variety of pseudo operatic arrangements. For a genre that claims to re-invigorate the old classics, vocal-crossover music has become a big clich in itself. Of course, nobody has thought of copying Sarah Brightmans show-stopping, techno-infused version of Ebben, ne andro lontana while doing backflips suspended in mid-air (the song is called A Question of Honour). It seems that Sarah Brightman, partnered by producer Frank Peterson of Enigma before it became tired, is the only crossover singer with any originality at all!
The London-based Il Divo has made a big splash on the UK music scene (according to their website), and is described in the sticker on the CD cover as The Worlds First Operatic Supergroup. The word divo means divine performer and is the masculine version of the word diva (relating to superstars, not goddesses). Pretty big words for a new group with only one album, dont you think? In truth, they are more akin to a boy band with stronger vocals and less snazzy dance moves, featuring an assortment of soothing music in their debut CD. The accompanying booklet carries numerous glamour shots of the quartet who, and this is strictly my opinion, are not very cute to begin with.
Il Divo is made up of four members: David, an American tenor who has sung Rudolfo in Baz Lurmanns creative but ultimately ill-fated Broadway production of La Boheme, Urs, a tenor from Switzerland who has spent seven years with the Netherlands Opera, Carlos, a Spanish baritone who counts Alfredo Kraus and Monserrat Caballe as his mentors having participated in their masterclasses, and Sabastien, a vox populi (what you and I would call a pop singer) who was in the process of making his own album when Il Divos producers came knocking.
The music here is of the ballady, piano, guitar and orchestra accompanied variety. Most of the tracks by themselves are pleasing enough, but on a whole the album tends to be plodding and a tad monotonous. Regresa A Me, or Unbreak My Heart sung in Italian, only served to remind me why Toni Braxton had such a big hit so long ago. However, some tracks do stand out, like the second single, Mama, an affectionate tribute to you-know-who (this is not the Spice Girls hit). Just in time for Mothers Day too! Nella Fantasia, the obligatory Sarah Brightman tribute (the song was originally commissioned for her Eden album), is nicely performed, stamping their style on the song without wrecking the mood that Sarah Brightman intended. Feelings, what Whitney fans will call a power ballad, allowing Carlos to show off his booming bass-baritone, and the group to show off the strength of their combined vocals. The final number, A Mi Manera (Frank Sinatras My Way sung in Italian), is suitably glamorized by banging cymbals, gongs, and blaring horns, giving much oomph to the track and finale of the CD. You can find out more about them at www.ildivo.com.
Follow Your Heart is Mario Frangoulis second album. For this CD, he chooses songs that, according to the CD notes, reflects my most profound feelings about life and puts across my views about friendship and love, family and patriotism.
What I enjoyed most about this album is the variety of styles that Frangoulis adopts throughout. Starting with heavy, orchestra-aided numbers like the inspirational first single Heres to the Heroes, Adagio and Follow Your Heart, he follows up with two lighter numbers; Hay Mas featuring Alejandro Fernandez and the breezy Bridge of Dreams (Ill Never Forget You). Also included are songs of self-reflection (UnAmima Sola and Another World), an infectious salsa number (Enas Hartinos Ilios), an uptempo duet with Spanish singer Melody (one of the highlights of this album) and even musicals, in the solo re-working of Moulin Rouges Come What May. UnAmima Sola samples the Latin texts of Ave Maria and Another World is based on the music and samples lines of Va Pensiero. Some may find such a move blasphemous, but this is the basis of crossover music in general and is frequently done by other crossover acts, so lets judge this album in the context of its genre.
Throughout this selection of songs, the one common thread that binds these pieces into a complete whole is the strength of Frangoulis voice. One redeeming factor that male solo crossover singers do not get credit for is providing pop radio (or at least adult-contemporary radio) with a wealth of strong vocals (by pop standards). Without the likes of Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and Frangoulis, all we have left are the whiney harmonies of 15-minute boybands and Justin Timberlakes annoying squeal. Frangoulis baritone is strong, firm and supple. It can be as light as the music requires and he is able to show off a good belt during dramatic climaxes. But he uses his abilities tastefully and not just for the sake of showing off. Being a baritone, he does not have the supernatural high notes that Andrea Bocelli gives at the drop of a hat, but he masks this deficiency well and shows off notes that are still impressively high for his voice type. The final number, Come What May, is of course the big hit from Moulin Rouge, originally performed by the leads Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. Frangoulis interpretation is faithful to the original, but through the beauty of his voice and sensitivity to the words and music, he manages to make his version uniquely remarkable as well.
On the whole, I had a good time listening to this CD. He is one of the few crossover vocalists worth watching (plus he does look cute from some angles). He is adequately supported by the Czech Film Orchestra and Choir under Jose Antonio Molina. You can find out more about the singer and this album at www.mariofrangoulis.com.