There is not a theatre fan who doesn’t know Michael Ball. He is nothing short of a theatre legend and remains a leading musical star as well as a nationally adored radio host and TV presenter. He became a household name as the original Marius with the London cast Les Miserables in 1985, and has since stormed the West End, Broadway and theatres worldwide in Olivier winning roles such as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, and as the title character in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. His new 15 track album “If Everyone Was Listening” was released on November 17th 2014 and is already #3 on the Easy Listening charts.
I was fortunate enough to see his “Heroes” tour in 2012, again as Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi Theatre in 2013, and also as the host of West End Heroes in September this year, and he was nothing short of extraordinary on all three occasions so it’s fair to say I had very high expectations for this album to blow me away.
Let me first clarify that there are some stunning songs on this album, and simply put, the track list goes from strength to strength as you read down the list, however, this album has confused me. As I look down at the cover of the album and see his bright eyes, fuzzy goatee and mischievous smile looking up at me, I feel guilty just for thinking this criticism but I must be honest with myself and say that this album is not his best.
Ball’s voice remains as powerful and poignant as ever, but the songs he has chosen have somewhat baffled me. For the first couple of tracks, “Bad Things” and “Simple Love”, I was somewhat concerned that Ball had chosen to pursue his hidden ambition of being a country and western performer… The crossover is bizarre and it seriously puzzled me. With a beautiful cover of Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” followed by a heart-warming rendition of “Jessie”, originally by Joshua Kadison, Ball redeems the out-of-place opening tracks.
My favourite song on the album is “You Needed Me”. The orchestrations on this ballad are soft and understated and even though accompanied by a chorus, Ball has a delicate emotion searing through his voice throughout the track. It sent visuals of a couples’ first dance at a wedding racing through my mind… Yes, this is the style of Michael Ball I love most.
The beat is lifted in “Stuck Like Glue” which is playful and infectious. I can imagine Ball will be superb performing this one live; his cheeky grin lighting up the stage as he sings “woah-oh woah-oh, whatcha go’n do?”. I liked this one, despite it being rather different from his ‘traditional’ style.
Thankfully his cover of Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” is lost in the middle of the album. There is nothing wrong with his vocals at all, it’s just that the song was never good in the first place… Thankfully, “Let it be me” featuring The Overtones, is an absolute winner. Soothing and calming in every way you could hope for. This is the song which ‘classic’ Michael Ball fans will love.
Overall, this album is a mixed bag with some stylistic confusion. I’m sure it’s clear from my introductions that I have adored Michael Ball for many years but this album is definitely not his best, however, it isn’t bad. As Easy Listening albums go, this one is a goodu’n; but as someone who wanted more ‘classic Michael Ball’ on this album, I was disappointed. He is as vocally strong and emotive as ever; it’s just not quite what I was hoping for.
Review by Harriet Langdown