“So close to reaching that famous happy end”
I should be careful what I say about this week’s CD, John Barrowman’s album John Barrowman from 2010, as practically all the women in my family are ma-hoo-sive fans of his and so there could be recriminations. I don’t have quite the same feelings but enjoyed his turn in La Cage aux Folles and am a big fan of Torchwood so am generally favourably inclined towards him. Focusing on musical theatre but with a sprinkling of pop songs too, this is exactly how one would imagine a Barrowman album to sound and in some respect this is both its strength and weakness, appealing to his core audience and offering frustrating hints of what an interesting artistic album he could create.
In a nutshell, my opinion is that I like the first half of most of the songs where both vocal performance and arrangements remain simple and uncluttered, allowing Barrowman’s clear gift for interpretation to shine through. But almost invariably, grandstanding kicks in alongside key changes, long sustained notes and over-processed backing which creates a rather repetitive feel across the whole record. The opening of songs like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ are just lovely but midway through lose what is making them special, robbing the subtleties that a little restraint would give, even if just to a couple of the songs. . A Celtic-infused take on ‘Memory’ from Cats actually emerges as the unexpected place where he curbs the excesses for the most part to interesting effect.
Whereas I like the different song selection for the requisite duet on the album, eschewing the usual standards for ‘So Close’ from the movie Enchanted sung with Jodie Prenger, it is a rather unexciting song. It is very pretty and sounds lovely but lacks the fireworks to really make it stand out. Matt Brind’s arrangements remain largely inoffensive, allowing for standards like ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ and ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’ to pass by pleasantly, but I found the party songs – ‘Copacabana’ and ‘Oh What A Night’ to be utterly cringeworthy (but then I would no matter who was singing them to be honest).
Barrowman is such a strong personality and his recent ubiquity on our television screens means that I think most people have made up their mind about whether they like him or not. And this album is an extension of that, it won’t convert anyone but it should surely please his fans. I just wish that he would spread his wings a little bit more and not play it quite so safe to create something genuinely interesting.