by: Josh Groban
In a short period of time, Josh Groban went from being a talented vocalist ready to enter college to the new prince of romantic music with a best-selling debut album and highly rated PBS special. The successful combination of his classical crossover croon, boyish good looks, and association with überproducer David Foster helped Groban become a sensation. His sophomore studio disc, Closer, stays comfortably within the boundaries built by his debut collection as Foster once again helms a modest set of pseudo-classical pop songs dreamily sung in various languages. Listening to Groban, it is easy to understand why this MOR style suits him so well as his maturing voice is not grand enough to fully embrace operatic material yet remains too rich and technical for typical mainstream pop music. On Closer he works within his limitations and the result is a more consistent listen than the scattershot debut with his voice sounding comfortable performing these emotional European-inspired pop songs. The best tunes bookend the disc as the atmospheric opener, "Oceano," sets an ominous tone while the mysterious "Never Let Go" is a welcome collaboration with Deep Forest that allows Groban to successfully move away from the saccharine ballads and grow as a vocalist. However, there is still plenty of romance included for the PBS crowd as "When You Say You Love Me" painfully cries out like a rejected Celine Dion cut and the Celtic-infused bombast of Secret Garden's "You Raise Me Up" plays like the sequel to his debut's most famous song, "To Where You Are." In addition to his improved vocals, Groban contributes three co-writing efforts that include "Never Let Go," and shows that there is a future for him to evenly match his skills as a vocalist and a songwriter. Although the disc still focuses on bland rose petal confessions, its highlights point in the right direction and bring Groban Closer to creating an album that eliminates the sick sweetness while remaining a tasty, satisfying treat.