Some albums defy the usual judgments of good or bad—they’re just wrong. I’m thinking of Liz Phair’s major label records (with the exception of the chorus of “Extraordinary”); or Sonny Bono’s post-divorce nervous breakdown Inner Views; M.C. Hammer’s gangsta record; Kiss’ The Elder; Aretha Franklin’s La Diva; or the most recent Chris Cornell solo misstep. They’re each so conceptually incongruent with the strengths of the artist, there’s no way in hell the actual performance could be anything but an oxygen-sucking, dust-kicking disaster.
The cloud o’ doom has descended upon one Michael Bolton, who really should be doing the Vegas thing right about now, but who apparently has the need to prove his relevance in whatever passes for the pop marketplace these days. Thus, the lady-slayin’, soul-crapping loverman has brought in the arguable talents of Ne-Yo, Lady Gaga, and others to introduce his creamy Boltony goodness to the kiddies in their Black Eyed Peas t-shirts, TiVo-ing Glee so they can line up to see the new Fame movie. Predictably, he stumbles, like a Jonas uncle who tippled a little too much Jesus juice at the family prayer picnic.
Again, I say, Bolton shouldn’t be doing this. He hasn’t had so much as a single gold record in 11 years, and had seemed to be quite content releasing cover albums that only about 100,000 or so people around the world really cared to hear. Fine—he’s a niche artist now, an indie, if you want to stretch the term a bit. He’s 56 and has enough hits behind him to put on a killer Celine Dion-like thing four or five nights a week at Harrah’s or Caesars Palace, and no one would begrudge him. He could put in ten or 12 years, make a nice living, develop a little blackjack habit, then retire. Right? Right?
Wrong. Aw hell …
With a title like One World One Love, one can justifiably cower in fear of a Bob Marley cover or some such thing, and the reggae-in-reverse “Ready for You” is enough to make you sweat it out a bit. Fortunately, what initially comes off as ganja smoke is really dry ice; Bolton’s just layin’ on the usual come-hither-to-the-boudoir lines, to a faux-island-flavored backbeat. Nothing as soulful as a Marley anywhere around it, praise Jah.
Oh, but the real bizarre goodness (or good bizarreness) is soon to follow. “Just One Love” starts with a stately synth-piano progression as Bolton expounds on a list of what’s ailing the world, in, you know, general terms:
So much killing
Too much anger inside
So much living
Not enough people living right
Too much hatred
Too much emptiness
I’ve got too much in me to go without a fight
What a bummer, right? But His Boltonhood knows what we need. Oh yes, he does, and he breaks off some of that knowledge in the chorus:
All we need is one love
That’s all that we need
Cause I know one love
Has given to me
There’s so much we can learn from each other
If we just find that one love
Something is amiss, though—is his voice Autotuned? Stop the song, move back 30 seconds, listen to it again. He—he is Autotuned! Mr. Leather Lungs himself has gone the T-Pain route! I half-expect it to start raining frogs or something. I mean, what the hell?
He takes his newfound penchant for pitch alteration to absurd extremes in “The Best”—a track featuring none other than Ne-Yo, an artist who clearly must think himself above the need for street cred. Or music cred. Bolton’s voice remains relatively untouched through the verses, only to get the Cher/”Believe” treatment in the chorus, punctuated with little asides like “Yes you are,” “I finally know,” “Gonna let it show,” etc. His duet with P!nk wannabe Tami Chynn, the laughably titled “Can You Feel Me,” likewise electronically “enhances” the chorus and various points of emphasis elsewhere in the track. If there was a shred of rocker left in Bolton (remember, this guy started off as an arena-rocking lite metal dude), he likely killed it off with these two songs alone.
His other notable collaboration happens to be with current (sh)It Girl Lady Gaga. “Murder My Heart” is ballad-by-numbers Bolton, with L-Gag playing a “featured” role, mostly singing along with the chorus, not that you’d recognize it as her (I smell a remix on the way). This is actually a good thing, relatively speaking—Bolton turns in his best performances on the record when he’s pretty much left alone. The ballads “Need You to Fall” and “You Comfort Me” fit the mold in which his voice seems best suited, and I’ve actually found myself listening to them outside my professional obligations as reviewer. You know, for pleasure. Yes, it strikes me as odd, too.
Yet, such goodwill is fleeting. Those of us who remember what an abortion Bolton can make out of a cover song will cringe once again as he subjects Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name” to a good flogging. Here’s a better analogy: you know how, when you bite into an apple, you must do so with some modicum of force, using your jaw muscles to bring your teeth down in such a manner as to penetrate the initially unyielding skin and flesh of the fruit? And you know how that manner of biting is different from the way you bite into a piece of soft angel food cake? Well, consider the chorus of “Sign Your Name” the softest piece of cake you’ve ever encountered; Bolton clamps down on it like a pit bull on an intruder. It hurts. Same goes for his ludicrous cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” The man’s dental bill must be astronomical.
In all, the “modern” flourishes of One World One Love makes it one of the more ridiculous records I’ve heard in a while (think of a Lynyrd Skynyrd disco album, or Insane Clown Posse covering Mahalia Jackson). Believe me, though—in 15 years or so, Josh Groban will make a record that sounds a lot like this one. It will not, however, be any better, or any less wrong.
Wanna see Michael Bolton lip-sync his new, Autotuned single in what looks like someone’s basement? Â Check this out: