Josh Groban Experiments With Songwriting On “Bridges”

On Sept. 21 2018, Josh Groban released his eighth studio album, “Bridges.” To preface, I love Josh Groban. If it weren’t for his turn as Pierre in “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” I wouldn’t have fallen in love with “War & Peace.” Objectively, his velvety baritone voice goes beautifully with every song he chooses. But usually, Groban does not sing his own songs, something common for a classical musician. Their duty is to interpret the works of composers like Eric Whitacre and Mozart. This isn’t so with his latest album. On the basic album, available nationwide as a CD and to stream online, Groban was involved in writing nine out of the twelve tracks. The result is an album that is solidly okay.

The strongest tracks on “Bridges” tended to follow the Groban formula. As a classical performer, it is not unusual to find foreign language tracks on Groban’s albums, with a few gospel-style pieces thrown in for good measure, all suited to his training. “Musica del Corazon,” featuring Vicente Amigo on guitar, is a sultry affair, with a rhythm that moves fast like a heartbeat in the first throbs of love. Groban’s voice moves easily through the Spanish, a language he excels in. “Symphony” is similarly classic Groban, filled with Latin motifs to reflect the passion he feels towards his partner. It is a sensual song, but also sweet, and left me wondering how Josh Groban managed to make the percussion instrument “timpani” sound romantic. “Bigger Than Us” is a stylistic shift for Groban, with a much darker rock edge. His feelings of hopelessness are topical in today’s climate, and it’s nice to see something unexpected out of him. All three of these tracks were written by Josh Groban.

The other two standouts on “Bridges” are also two of the three songs on the album that Groban himself did not write. “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the folk standard from singer-songwriter Paul Simon’s Simon & Garfunkel days, brings a strong interpretation to the menagerie of covers that already exist of the piece. Groban utilizes a gospel style that is reminiscent of Paul Simon’s 1970s work, and it works well, showing off his incredible range. “Run” with Sarah McLachlan is ethereal, almost like a dream. My only gripe with that track is that there was not better use of McLachlan, whose voice stands out in this style compared to much of her other work in the adult alternative genre.

As for the other tracks on “Bridges,” they feel either blandly pop, more at home in a wedding playlist than the concert hall, while the others are just a little too classic Groban to stand out. Two tracks in particular, “Won’t Look Back” and “More of You” feel like two sides of the same clichéd coin, though “Won’t Look Back” actually brings nuance to the romantic clichés of what Groban can do for his lover. “More of You” just feels like something I would write about my first boyfriend in high school, with lyrical standouts such as “I don’t like you, I love you/ I don’t want you, I need you.” My hope is that Groban’s songwriting will get stronger with time, and I will give him a few more years to develop it before passing supreme judgement.

Overall, “Bridges” is not a horrible album. It still sounds amazing, though some of the stylistic experimentation does not go over as well as Groban probably hoped. The lyricism is truly where “Bridges” falls flat, relying too heavily on overused clichés. That said, after finishing the album I did not find that my time had been wasted. Most of the album was simply enjoyable. Come November, you can still find me at his concert when the tour arrives in Washington, D.C.

Rating: ⅗

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