Josh Groban’s Illuminations is his fifth studio classical crossover album and also his most personal and progressive yet. While die-hard fans may be upset by the change in direction of Groban’s style, many fans and even newcomers can find his new, different style more accessible. While there are some shortcomings of the album, overall it is an interesting left turn from Groban’s previous commonplace musical direction.
This new style is heavily influenced by more popular music from the last century or so instead of the more classical traditions of the albums past. While Groban has been known to collaborate with modern acts like Deep Forest and Imogen Heap, this album takes that a leap further by performing mostly modern song in English.
The songs here have a pop-like structure and simplicity in melody and harmonization. Previously Groban included mostly tracks in various languages inspired by, or directly covering works of classical music.
The style of Illuminations embraces the tradition of the English songs from his previous albums and develops it further to make English-language compositions that have roots in classical tradition but have a modern sensibility easily understood by most listeners.
This new style is promising in its premise but does not quite become it to the most it can be. Groban sounds natural enough while singing “easier” music with his operatic, trained voice. However, the compositions sound only half-baked.
The melodies meander too much and do not have strong hooks, a staple of pop music. The result is pleasant music that does not get stuck in your head. With a little work and some more experimentation Groban can surely master this new challenge.
With a classically trained voice at his disposal, the possibilities are tantalizing. He could take a leaf out of Alanis Morissette’s book and do ironic deliveries of pop songs. Think T-Pain lyrics with Groban’s delivery.
Groban has a writing credit on 11 of the 13 tracks of Illuminations, usually sharing credit with Dan Wilson of Semisonic. This is by far the most personal album Groban has released and it shows. The themes are much more accessible and expected of a savvy, modern 20-something. There are no societal dissertations or shocking opinions as the material is tame and soothing. Love, gained and lost, makes up the bulk of the themes.
Groban’s voice is the No. 1 reason to buy this album. His voice is warm and soothing like hot chocolate in a blizzard. In a world of Miley Cyrus and Drake, Groban stands head, shoulders and stratospheres above other popular “talents.” He is controlled and practiced when so much music today is computerized and processed. While he has not quite nailed down the pop, bombastic tone he aims for, Groban departs well from a pure operatic tone.
The style of Illuminations is definitely a departure from Groban’s previous work, but the shift is a step in an interesting direction. However, it is only a step and hopefully will be developed more into something intriguing for more than just fans. This departure allows Groban more freedom of expression as he co-wrote nearly all the songs on the album. Fans of Groban’s voice will not be disappointed as he is still as accomplished as ever and hearing his instrument do something different like this entertains even casual fans.
Illuminations sees Groban grow as an artist, and with a little more experience and work he can truly transition into the pop arena as a talented, capable artist, a rarity.