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I first became acquainted with Matthew Morrison in "Glee", the hit TV show where he portrays Will Scheuster, the idealistic and at times inspirational teacher who runs the school glee club. I recall reading not long after the show debuted in the UK that Morrison had signed a deal to record a solo album. Having been rather impressed by his voice when he sang in "Glee" I was curious to hear it and so it was that finally, in May 2011, the album was released.
Morrison was born in California in 1978 and is a trained singer and dancer. He has been working in the entertainment business for over a decade now and in this time he spent a year as a member of an unsuccessful boyband, found success on Broadway playing Link Larkin in "Hairspray" and had various small roles in TV shows over the years.
His big break was in "Glee" and he is the first of the show's cast to release an album.
I didn't realise how good Morrison was as a singer until he performed the Heart classic "Alone" on "Glee" as a duet with Kristin Chenowith. He has a high tenor voice which has the ability to touch the heartstrings - and certainly he touched my heartstrings with his singing on "Alone".
His debut album contains just ten tracks, and three of these are duets, with Morrison performing with Gwyneth Paltrow, Elton John and Sting on these songs.
I have to say I had expected Radio 2 to pick up on Morrison's album but before I got it I hadn't heard anything from it. Furthermore, I had been considering buying tickets to see him perform live in Glasgow but the concert was cancelled before I could buy them. He did perform a concert during a promotional visit to the UK in London and by all accounts he was very good but from what I can work out his other UK dates were cancelled due to poor ticket sales. Certainly his album hasn't set the charts alight either.
If you are expecting the album to be like "Glee" you will be disappointed with only the duets coming close to what you would expect on the show. The other seven songs are all brand new, with Morrison having a songwriting credit on four of them.
The overall sound too is Adult Contemporary as opposed to the almost unadulterated pop you will encounter on "Glee".
The problem with an album from an artist such as Morrison is the fact he isn't a songwriter in his own right. Furthermore, following his aborted stint with a boy band, he doesn't seem to have been particularly focused on getting a recording deal, instead working in musical theatre. So this leaves him without a body of work he could have been building up as he tried to get a recording deal. Instead he is at the mercy of co-writers and executive producers finding songs for him.
The end result is something of a mish mash which doesn't have much in the way of direction and tells us little or nothing about Matthew Morrison the man. Now don't get me wrong - I don't need to know about him and Michael Buble manages to produce albums which don't tell me much about him either, but Buble has people making far better song choices than Morrison and also is smart enough to know it's his voice people want to hear - not over produced pap.
The album's opening track, "Summer Rain", a Morrison co-write, is an interchangeable feelgood pop song of the kind I have heard many times over the years. The lyrics are a little cheesy and the producers' insistence in giving the song a Jason Mraz feel with a ukulele led intro gave me a sense of déjà vu even although it's a brand new song. The only saving grace really is Morrison's voice which is technically perfect.
Debut single "Still Got Tonight" is better but still features a Coldplay-esque guitar backing and a soaring chorus which puts me in mind of "Firework" by Katy Perry. Morrison's voice is clear as a bell in the verse but once the chorus kicks in it becomes lost in a sea of production designed to make this as radio friendly as possible. To be fair, the chorus does stick in your head but frankly it could be anyone singing it because the production seems to suck the identity out of Morrison's voice.
The first cover on the album is "Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot" , a Sting song and Sting duets on this too. This is one of my favourite Sting songs and it starts off really well with Morrison really getting into the vibe of the song and adding a real touch of gospel to the proceedings. Then Sting joins in and it doesn't seem to work so well. It's a shame because the song makes wonderful use of a choir which blends wonderfully with Morrison but Sting doesn't. I can only assume this was done as a nod to "Glee" and also to somehow validate Morrison's use of cover versions. It's a mistake though because the song doesn't work as a duet at all and doesn't allow Morrison to stamp his own identity on this song at all.
"My Name" is better with introspective lyrics by Morrison. It's a mid tempo ballad which allows Morrison's voice to shine well and he sings this with genuine sincerity. There's copious use of a string section on the chorus which Morrison manages to overcome. This isn't a particularly inspiring song but Morrison's voice is its saving grace. "Hey" isn't so good - once again the ukulele features throughout but it puts me more in mind of Bruno Mars this time round - and no - Mars wasn't involved in writing this. It has a laid back and quietly confident sound but there's no denying it's one of those songs that acts like Mars or Mraz would probably reject.
The low point of the album for me is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" which Morrison performs as a duet with his "Glee" co-star Gwyneth Paltrow. Morrison performed the song on "Glee" on his own and it's charming that his ukulele playing features on the song but at the end of the day there's no denying this isn't a ground breaking cover version the way Eva Cassidy's version of the song was - instead it's just an almost note for note karaoke cover version of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's 1993 version. Paltrow offers nothing to proceedings either - her voice is thin and reedy and doesn't blend well with Morrison's at all. I can only conclude she was asked to appear to provide Morrison fans with a slightly different version of the song to that already released on "Glee" cast albums but retain a link to the show.
The album doesn't improve with "Don't Stop Dancing" which is a forgettable and entirely over produced pop-dance song which is reminiscent of some of the stuff Leo Sayer was doing in the 70s. Morrison does get the opportunity to show off his higher range with some great falsetto singing from him but that's the only good thing I can say about it.
Further shades of "Glee" creep into the album courtesy of the album's final duet, this time with Elton John. Once again the composer turns up and this time Morrison spars with Elton on a Glee style mash up of "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" and "Rocket Man". And just like the duet with Sting, once again I am left wondering why Morrison (or his people) considered this to be a good idea - did Sting and Elton John approach them and offer to appear, thus flattering Morrison or did his people ask them? If his people did, I fear they made a mistake.
Elton John is getting on a bit now and it's fair to say that his voice isn't what it was. As a result Morrison almost sings him off the record, especially on "Rocket Man". The only really good thing I can say about the song as a duet is that John and Morrison harmonise well together in places - which I know really sounds as if I am damning with faint praise. I really wish that instead of including this mash up as a duet, Morrison had opted instead to record just "Rocket Man" on his own. What concerns me about the cover versions he has included on here is the fact he hasn't been able to add much that is new, which leads me to question his ability to really interpret a song.
There are, thankfully, a couple of saving graces on this album. "It Don't Matter to the Sun" has a lovely slow, almost country vibe to it. Morrison's voice is fantastic on this - probably the best it is on the entire album - it conveys yearning, love and loss. Similarly on the slow ballad "It's Over" Morrison can more than hold his own. Both these songs have far more judicious use of production which allows the star of the show - Morrison's vocals - to shine here. On "It's Over" Morrison's roots in musical theatre are revealed a little, but I can forgive him that as it's the only time in the entire album I could spot that and the song - and his voice - is so beautiful it doesn't matter.
This is a disappointing debut from Matthew Morrison. It seems to lack any real direction - is it an extension of the music from "Glee", or is it an album aimed at the over 40s who buy the most albums these days?
I think the biggest problem is a lack of confidence which seems to dictate that this album will somehow do better with guest performers rather than allowing Morrison to shine on his own. Morrison's voice is so good I can't work out where this lack of confidence comes from - although it has to be said the uninspired selection of songs doesn't help much, along with an almost unremitting desire in some places to rip off other performers' sound.
Morrison himself clearly isn't much of a songwriter. His lyrics are by and large rather insipid and the danger is with a performer who isn't much a writer that he is only as good as his collaborators. Unfortunately for Morrison, some of these collaborations haven't worked at all.
I do hope, however, that Morrison gets the opportunity to release another album as he has a voice which deserves a wider audience. The problem perhaps lies with the fact "Glee" is viewed as a programme for the young - whereas Morrison's album and style are pitched to the kind of people who listen to Radio 2 and still buy albums on CD - ie the older listener. This seems to have led to a bit of an identity crisis and it's something Morrison needs to address on his follow up album if he wants to release an album which is more commercially successful than his debut.
So I have given this three stars but in all honesty if it wasn't for Morrison's voice, it would only be worthy of two.