"Can you top that?"
“What most people know about me, they know through my music. This time, I’ve tried to open that door as wide as possible. These songs are a giant step closer to who I really am and what my music is all about. Hence the title.”
So says talented vocal phenomenon Josh Groban on the subject of his aptly-titled new Reprise Records release, Closer.
Featuring the glorious new single, “You Raise Me Up,” Closer is a stunning collection of thirteen diverse and distinctive new tracks, including three original songs by the young artist, that together comprise a musical landscape both richly detailed and sweepingly cinematic; a resonant and revealing self-portrait in sound and a memorable journey through melody and lyric, language and emotion.
Co-produced by a stellar supporting cast, including David Foster, Walter Afanasieff, Martin Page and Eric Mouquet, Closer boasts a guest artist roster led by world-class violinist Joshua Bell and the innovative French duo Deep Forest. Recorded over seven months in 2003, the CD reveals brilliant new facets of a young man The New York Times crowned “The New Boy Wonder Of The Voice.”
Since the release of his extraordinarily successful 2001 self-titled debut album, featuring the International hit “To Where You Are,” Josh Groban has become a musical phenomenon, selling well over five million albums worldwide, making scores of televised appearances, most notable his wildly popular 2003 PBS Great Performances special, which itself became a number one selling DVD and the best selling long form music video of 2002. His appearance at the closing ceremonies of the Salt Lake City Olympics was seen by over a billion people, many of whom were instantly converted into rabid “Grobanites,” as the artist’s global fan following has affectionately dubbed themselves. Most recently, Josh appeared on stage at Broadway’s Amsterdam Theater for an Actor’s Fund benefit performance of Chess, brining to fruition a long-standing ambition of this former Carnegie-Mellon musical theater major.
But that, of course, was then and this is now, and for Josh, the difference could not be more self-evident. “Of course I felt tremendous pressure to repeat the success of the first album,” he confides. “The unspoken question was ‘Can you top that?’ I felt that vocally I’d grown so much, that I was more grounded and that I had a lot more to say. The challenge became not so much reaching the bar I had already set, but setting it higher.”
Nevertheless it was, by his own admission, a “daunting” task to ramp up for the new project. “It felt as if one day we’d finally finished everything that had to be done to take the first album as far as it could go. And the next, I was in the studio starting on another one.” A self-styled “scribbler” in poetry and lyrics for most of his life, Groban adds, “when I started putting words to music in the studio, it all just seemed to fit.” The results are nothing short of spectacular, thanks in part to the partners he picked. “Walter Afanasieff had been involved on the first album and we had a great working relationship,” explains Josh, of his co-writer on the Closer standout, “Per Te.” “It carried over into songwriting and really gave me the encouragement to push myself. I realized early on the benefit of finding the right creative chemistry, which is why Eric was also such a natural choice.”
The Eric in question is Mouquet, one half of the renowned French World Music duo, Deep Forest. “I’m a huge admirer of what they’ve done with artists like Peter Gabriel,” Josh enthuses, “and I knew that they would take me in a whole new direction.” Josh, in fact, ended up in Mouquet’s converted chateau in Northern France for a week-long writing and recording odyssey that yielded two more outstanding Closer selections, “Never Let Go,” with a guest performance from Deep Forest and “Remember When It Rained,” featuring Josh on vocals and, for the first time, on piano.
Collaborating closely once again with David Foster (who produced Josh’s debut), work on the album proceeded at a determined pace through the summer and fall of 2003. Along with Josh’s newly minted originals, a tune stack was assembled remarkable for its depth and diversity. Included among the Closer standouts: “Mi Mancherai” featuring Joshua Bell from the score to the film // Postino, and a continuation, of sorts, to Josh’s fascination for Italian film music (as evidenced by “Se” from Cinema Paradiso on his first album); the unabashedly romantic “My Confession,” penned by Richard Page and the aforementioned single “You Raise Me Up.” “I have a natural affinity for sad songs,” Josh confides with a laugh. “In a way this is a response to the song To Where You Are,’ on the last album. I wanted to give my fans a definite uplift this time.”
The list goes on: the sweeping opener, “Oceano;” the Spanish fire of “Si Volvieras A Mi,” the sheer virtuosity of “Caruso.” “I knew I was going to be actively touring for this album,” Josh reveals, “and I kept that in mind as one of the criteria for the songs. This is music that needs to sound as good on stage as it does in the studio.” Groban is scheduled to embark on his 1st world concert tour in Jan 2004.
Whether in concert, on CD or simply resonating in the hearts and minds of those who hear it, Closer is a collection by a vocalist and songwriter who understands that intimacy is the first prerequisite in the art of communication. “To me, these songs present something beautiful,” he concludes. “Sometimes they’re personal and sometimes you can just appreciate the story, even if it’s not mine. It all comes from the same place.”
On his new album, Josh Groban has brought us closer to that place.