Faster than sound

by Katie Wilber

Some sophomore attempts show that the success of an artist’s first album was simply a fluke; others, thankfully, show the improvement and growth of the performer. Josh Groban’s newest compact disc, “Closer,” is the latter and features three songs he wrote.

A Los Angeles native, Groban only joined his school’s choir because “everyone else was doing it.” He went to the Interlochen Arts Program, and in 1998 he got a call saying a producer needed a singer for the California governor’s inauguration. After he wowed the crowd with a performance of “All I Ask of You,” the same producer rang him up the next year to fill in for Andrea Bocelli at the Grammy rehearsals. The then-17-year-old sang the Oscar-nominated “The Prayer” before Grammy-nominated artists and found himself on “The Rosie O’Donnell” show a few weeks later.

Groban’s 2001 debut album sold more than five million copies, and his 2003 PBS “Great Performances” special became a No. 1-selling DVD. More than a billion people watched his performance at the closing ceremonies of the Salt Lake City Olympics and many instantly became “Grobanites.” A performance on the season finale of “Ally McBeal” generated 8,000 fan e-mails and earned him another appearance.

After Groban’s producer got the song “Broken Vow,” he waited a while before allowing Groban to sing it. Practice and persistence paid off as Groban voices the heartbreak and jealousy of a jilted lover whose ex-flame has moved on. “Tell me his name/I want to know/the way he looks/and where you go/I need to see his face/I need to understand/why you and I came to an end.” He seems barely able to control his emotions, driving the song to even greater heights.

Despite his classical training, Groban is inching closer to the realm of popular music. “Closer” has more songs with the underlying musicality and rhythms of pop ballads, such as his “When You Say You Love Me.”

Groban performs some of his songs in French, Spanish and Italian to near perfection. Even without a knowledge of the languages, the attention to detail in the pronunciations sends one to a Parisian cafe or through the streets of Seville and then down a Venetian river in a gondola.

Groban surpasses his first album with such depth and intensity that one can only hope for something like this the next time around.