Album Review: Josh Groban, “All That Echoes” (2013)

I have been a devoted Josh Groban fan for many years.  I’ve bought all his albums- even the CD/DVDs of his concerts and PBS specials.  I loved him, because he had the voice of an angel, the geekiness of what I hoped my future husband would be, and the dreaminess of just about any heartthrob.

I’ll be honest, though- my Josh Groban fanaticism has significantly dropped over the years.  I think it was around his 2010 album, Illuminations, that I started to realize that I’ve heard him belt out a ballad in Italian one too many times; that I realized his voice always sounded the same, whether it was a pop song or a ballad, and he wasn’t doing anything different or innovative with his career.  I feel like Josh Groban has released the same album of music several times over in the twelve years since his debut.

Still, I can’t help buying his music, because once upon a time, I was a fan.  And I’m too loyal of a person to turn my back on him without even giving him a chance.  So, it does sadden me a little to write this review, because All That Echoes is every bit as disappointing as I secretly knew it would be.

The lead single, Brave, is obviously supposed to capture the excitement and momentum that Groban’s singles once did, but instead, just falls flat.  It sounds like every “inspirational” song I’ve ever heard, chopped up and then put back together into an “inspiration cocktail” and the result is so lifeless and uninspiring that I can’t even currently remember how the chorus goes after just listening to the song.  The second track on the album, False Alarms, doesn’t fair much better.  We hear a lot of Groban’s soaring vocals, but I’ve heard this kind of song before- big, booming vocals, epic piano, blah, blah, blah. In fact, I’m pretty sure the track is so bland, that Starbucks wouldn’t even use it for background music.

On the other hand, Groban’s cover of Falling Slowly is nearly sacrilegious. The original song, sung by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irgolva, has a lot of personal meaning to me; it is a song that stirs me, that moves something deep inside of me- hearing their vocals together, singing this beautiful song- the gorgeous notes and melodies- the fact that my boyfriend and I think of it as “our” song- all of it makes it one of my favorites.  Needless to say, Groban’s treatment of this track does none of that for me.  He goes on to tackle both sides of the duet himself and while his voice sounds lovely at times, he’s also straining to hit some of the high notes that Hansard so flawlessly conquered in the original.  But worse than the vocal aspect, is the fact that the magic is gone.  The song, which plays a pivotal role in both the movie it originated in and in my life, has been reduced to nothing more than dull background music, which I actually did first hear in a coffee shop.

It’s not all bad, though.  She Moves Through The Fair has a sort of medieval/gaelic sound to it, which is interesting enough.  Groban doesn’t do anything vocally challenging or new, but at the very least, the music livens things up a bit, and he does seem to handle his vocals a lot better than he does during some of the other tracks.  Below The Line is the first non-ballad of the album, and even though it sounds like a Genesis/Phil Collins B-side, it’s at least a bit fun and unexpected from the brooding ballads we usually receive from Groban.

Josh Groban in a concert

The majority of the album is very ballad-heavy, though.  E Ti Promettero features Groban singing with Laura Pausini (whom I’ve never heard of prior to this). Unfortunately, Pausini spends most of the song shrilly drowning out Groban’s vocals, to the point where he sounds like he’s just a backing vocalist on her song.  This is his album, not hers, isn’t it?  The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress is another cover song, that sounds nice enough- I mean, nice enough for the lounge bar on a Carnival cruise, that is.  Groban’s vocal delivery sounds like a paint-by-number for standards- utterly dull.  Meanwhile, Un Alma Más features Cuban jazz musician, Arturo Sandoval, and the latin rhythm and spanish lyrics call to mind some of Groban’s work on his early albums, which isn’t really a good thing at this point.  I feel like I’ve heard this same song already, but I heard it five albums ago, and it was called Alejate.  Or wait, maybe I’m thinking of Si Volvieras a Mi. No, no, wait…I’m DEFINITELY thinking of a song on his third album, called Solo Por Ti.   You know what?  Just forget it.

The album ends with two fairly decent songs.  Hollow Talk begins promisingly enough- the bare piano melody is a departure from the other highly orchestrated songs on the album.  The eerie lyrics (“Silence seizes a cluttered room/Light is shed not a breath too soon/Darkness rises in all you do/Standing and drawn across the room/Spatial movements and butterflies/Shadows scatter without a fire”) go along nicely with the haunting melody, and understated vocals from Groban.  Towards the end of the track, loud stringed instruments are introduced and the song picks up- almost, almost going over the top- but Groban’s vocals and the melody are restrained well.  The song probably has the most interesting sound and lyrics on the entire album, which is a bit sad, since the disc is almost at the end.

I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) is another remake, this time of a Stevie Wonder song.  I’ve never heard the original, which (seeing as how I hated the Glen Hansard cover) is probably a good thing- I have nothing to compare this to, and therefore, first listened to it with a clean slate.  Admittedly, I mostly like this song because of the sweet sentiment of an ever lasting love.  The production is a bit cheesy (the mawkish violins at the start are a bit too much), and Groban flirts with oversinging throughout the entire song, not to mention he is again drowned out by a gospel choir towards the end.  But all that aside, his vocals sound strong and clear during the hopeful chorus, and the song is still beautiful and inspiring in ways that Brave tried and failed at being.

I’m sad that I didn’t enjoy All That Echoes, I really am.  As Groban is listed as a contributing songwriter for several songs, I was hoping he’d really put his personal touch on the songs and we’d get something exciting and new from him, but that certainly wasn’t the case.  I don’t want to believe this, but I’m starting to think that perhaps Josh Groban is a one-trick pony.  Meaning, he can do the “pop/opera, powerful, soaring vocals matched with an inspirational song and lush orchestra” thing wonderfully, but that’s all he can really do.  I’d like to see him experiment a bit more and try some other genres of music, or at the very least, try to mix up his albums with songs that don’t sound like carbon copies of tracks he already released six years ago.

Rating: 2.5_stars.svg
Track Listing
1. Brave
2. False Alarms
3. Falling Slowly
4. She Moved Through The Fair
5. Below The Line
6. E ti Promettero
7. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
8. Un Alma Mas
9. Happy In My Heartache
10. Hollow Talk
11. Sincera
12. I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EAn2hOStpA]
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