Mike the Knife
There once was a singer who operated very successfully in the worlds of both pre-rock and rock-era popular music. This mythological figure, who was known in lands far and wide by the name Bobby Darin, managed to create hits that are now iconic representatives of early rock ‘n’ roll (“Splish Splash”), big-band swing (“Mac the Knife,” “Beyond the Sea,”), and folk-country (“If I Were a Carpenter”). No artist since has existed so comfortably in such disparate musical worlds simultaneously.
But Michael Bublé is getting there. If he ultimately doesn’t make it, it will be only because the music business has changed so much. The idea of a top-ten hit with a traditional arrangement of an American Songbook standard is laughable, and Bublé’s more current-sounding material is probably too soft and showy to make a splish-splash at the top of the singles chart.
Yet Buble´s albums are massive successes, his shows are sellouts, and his work exhibits enormous good taste and surprises. Case in point: his new album To Be Loved. It starts with a typical Bublé rechanneling of Frank Sinatra’s version of “You Make Me Feel So Young,” arranged to evoke Nelson Riddle without plagiarizing him, and segues into Buble´s latest contemporary pop effort, the sunny, anthemic “It’s a Beautiful Day.” These cuts demonstrate the singer’s seemingly effortless genre hopping and an ever-increasing confidence and command of his material without offering much that could be called new.
But it’s only a warm-up. Then come the surprises, with soulful remakes of the Bee Gees‘ “To Love Somebody” and Jackie Wilson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You.” Bublé is not only a youthful matinee idol paying homage to the past; he’s one of the best blue-eyed soul singers recording today. Just as soon as he’s caught your attention with these readings, he shifts 60’s gears with Reese Witherspoon to summon up Frank, Sr., and Nancy, Jr.’s novelty ballad “Something Stupid,” retaining the tempo and gut-string guitar of the original, but with a looped beat that gives the old pop hit a drive it never had. The next track on the CD is the Sinatra gem “Come Dance with Me,” so you’re ready for a smooth transition back to ring-a-ding swing. But no, it’s a Latin arrangement that grooves with the best cha-cha orchestras from the late 50’s.
Bublé’s warm, fuzzy, pitch-perfect voice ties these musical memories together with contemporary originals that complement the standards and create a 14-song work that never goes too far afield of Buble´s stock and trade. With compatible guest artists (Bryan Adams, Naturally 7, the Puppini Sisters), a good mix of classic and new tunes, and expert production and mixing, Bublé is at the top of his Darinesque game. The end of the CD finds Bublé soft landing with Sinatra’s “Young at Heart,” more reverential than original, and perhaps a title opposite to the common assessment of Bublé’s outlook. But he’s dancing with the one that brung him, and exiting the party he hosted as master and commander of pop-music styles and history.
Performance: A; Arrangements: A; Overall: A