About 12 years ago, Josh Groban formed an instant niche for himself in traditional pop music: a young, handsome, slightly geeky man with a smooth operatic voice, singing songs in a musical style dating well before his time. He went on to become one of the top-selling American vocalists in the twenty-aughts, his first four records going multi-platinum, as he became the poster boy for a subgenre nicknamed “popera.”
Now, perhaps because the newness of his oldness (?) is starting to wear a little (his last album only went platinum, Groban is taking a slightly different tack, leaning ever-so-slightly toward a more modern pop/rock feel with his sixth release All That Echoes.
This is not the first time that a crooner has attempted to modernize his sound, and history has shown that prior attempts at this sort of thing have failed miserably. (The only thing that revived Tony Bennett’s once-floundering career, for example, was a purposeful return to his original style.) Granted, Groban is unique in that he started by performing a more classical style in a modern environment—a risk that truly paid off for him. But suffice it to say that an operatic vocalist moving toward a more pop/rock vibe could be disastrous, to say the least.
That said, I’m happy to report that All That Echoes is not a dismal failure—but mainly because the move toward pop/rock is so timid that at times it is barely perceptible.
“Brave”, the album’s opening track and lead single, is really the album’s most ambitious track, with a drum beat reminiscent of Coldplay set over slightly percussive strings and piano. This vibe continues through the next track, “False Alarms”—and then, it virtually disappears for the next seven tracks. From that point, Groban stays in fairly familiar territory, with ventures into Broadway (“Falling Slowly”), Celtic (“She Moved Through the Fair”), and Latin (“Un Alma Mas” feat. Arturo Sandoval). And yes, “popera” is still very much present, especially in the duet with Laura Pausini, “Et Ti Promettero.” (All this to say that established Josh Groban fans will still find plenty of standard fare to please their palates.) The pop/rock vibe makes a brief return toward the end of the record, with tunes “Happy In My Heartache” and “Hollow Talk,” but otherwise, this supposed shift in musical style really isn’t much of a shift at all. And I think that is actually the record’s salvation, because the little bit of pop/rock in this mix does more to detract from the record than add to it.
Groban definitely tried a few new things on this record, not just in production but in marketing. He tapped Green Day’s producer Rob Cavallo to helm the project (which definitely affected the overall vibe of the record), and he has supplemented the record’s promotion with bundled packages sold on HSN and even a Fathom Events live performance shown in select movie theaters this week. But at the end of the day, it’s still apparent that Groban knows which side his bread is buttered on. Overall, the primary selling points of All That Echoes will be those same elements that first endeared Josh Groban to the public: a smooth, flawless voice over pleasing orchestral arrangements, with just enough “pop” to make it current.
There might be some who criticize All That Echoes for not being daring enough in its flirtations with pop/rock. For me, I think Groban has ultimately avoided what could have been a major train wreck.