Just in time before the Woman in White Broadway review flood begins it is done: the official JustBall.Net Music review.
Find out why this album is all about the male soul (for once) and why it combines past and present of Michael's recording career!
Well, in our humble opinion at least! LOL
Seeing that writing about an album in general is always difficult due to its immense variety I decided to write about each song individually rather than write a general review. That way the danger of getting carried away and jumping back and forth was minimalised but could not be completely ruled out I'm afraid.
Nevertheless, I hope that you will enjoy reading this just as much as I enjoyed writing it (picture that: alone in a quiet room with Michael Ball singing to you over headphones on repeat in a considerable volume night after night! The chores of a Bunny reporter...giving giving that's all I know..it's a tough job, but someone has to do it etc etc).
It's just that, a prelude to what's going to come, tuning you in for the right mood for this album. It's quiet and thoughtful but carries the promise of something very powerful coming up and indeed ends like a cliff-hanger, it leads directly ( i.e. there is no long break) into the next song which is quite appropriately: The Show Must Go On.
The Show Must Go On
There were lots of doubts in the fan cosmos about this particular song, simply because it was performed on Michael's latest tour and we all got very spoilt with the live arrangement, constantly changing from cynicism to a kind of resigned hope…and very loud. It just blast you from your seat. A true heart-stopper. So here he goes and records a power-song. Something he rarely does, because apparently he finds it hard to capture the emotion that comes with a live performance.
So what did we get? A different arrangement, the orchestration is different and it even reminds me of Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Winter. I realise for the first time that I find myself constantly associating images that go along with the music, like watching a film. This album is a soundtrack! The arrangement surely has elements of film music. The strings are prominent and the drums are slow, just as his singing is. Thoughtful. It's not jumping at you and hits you in the face. You can tell every line is carefully thought about and heartfelt. He means it when he sings he's “never giving in, on with the show”. If you let him and are not prejudiced against the studio version this song will touch you deep inside and leave you thinking. Yes, I do wonder why the powerful live versions never make it onto studio recordings. There seems to be a law out there somewhere that forbids the raw and powerful live versions to enter a record studio. That is a shame are non-concert goers are missing out on a very different aspect of Michael Ball's music. But a good friend told me to listen to the songs with a “virgin” ear, as if I never heard and saw it live. This song deserves this second chance, because when you let it, it will take you by the hand and lead you to the verge of tears with a sad smile and a tender pat on the back. And that's exactly where this song is supposed to make you feel, I think. Oh and a recommendation by the author: listen to this album in a car or via headphones and turn the volume up! This will make up for Mr Ball's voice being tuned down a little for whatever reason.
His rendition of this legendary song surely stands up against the original which is quite an achievement. He has made it his own, giving it his own interpretation. It has this Alone Together feeling to it. It's almost like he is talking to you, telling you a story, not merely singing a song. So he was turning this show stopper into a thoughtful yet powerful ballad. Not many would get away with that but he does and proves that he really knows his stuff.
But one thing is seriously displeasing: why fade out a song? There is no need to. We know there is a way to end this song properly and not just tune it down. But this is the only draw back about this one. I promise! To all those who are doubtful: go give it another chance, it's worth it. Listen to it on repeat, close your eyes and feel the song rather than listen to it.
The band is fantastic (especially the drums that sound like a heart beating in tune and the exquisite guitar) and the backing vocals impressive.
Fields of Gold
This one is quite a contrast to Show Must Go On. Much quieter with its melancholic melody. But these songs share the varied and interesting imagery in the lyrics. Fields of gold in itself is a beautiful image, as is Show Must Go On's “my soul is painted like the wings of butterflies”.
Also interesting are the lines that were left out of this version: “See the west wind move like a lover so, Upon the fields of barley, Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth. Among the fields of gold”. Probably not suitable for a family album?
Anyways, again this song takes you on a journey like a film camera. You cannot help but picture those golden fields and feel the summer wind. This song is the newest addition to a long tradition of quiet ballads on Michael Ball albums. Take One Careful Owner for example. Many aspects of this latest album remind me of this one, but we will get to this point a little later on.
This song has the soothing quality of a lullaby without being boring which makes it special. The tender guitar play is unpretentious and accompanies Mr Ball's sensual approach to this piece with much care.
You raise me up
Another one of the exquisite selection of songs that he performed throughout his summer tour before he recorded it. This one doesn't face the same difficulties like Show must go on or Life on Mars though. No one I know complained about the difference between the live and studio version. But this may be because there isn't much difference. Okay, so now there is a full orchestra in the background and the backing vocals are more of a choir but that merely underlines the greatness of this song.
As Michael himself has said, it can be perceived as both a religious and a more worldly song. In any case it quite physically raises you up when you listen to it. I find myself always straighten up slightly when it gets to the dramatic parts. It forms this arc from being almost intimate in the beginning, just him and a piano, and then more and more instruments and eventually voices gather together to create this huge sound that never fails to impress.
“You raise me up to more than I can be”, what a huge compliment. I know this song means tremendously much to a lot of people and I dare say this rendition took the immense responsibility to get it right for everyone in a stride. I am sure Brian Kennedy is happy with the way his beautiful song was treated.
Now, by recording this one he got us by surprise, I admit that. Again a tour song and rather upbeat so we hadn't put that one down on the list. But I am glad that he did. It's good to hear a classic recorded in perfection.
Again this song is a contrast to the previous one. It's one of the essential good-mood-songs around. And I happen to know he must have made two lovely ladies VERY happy in not only singing it live but also selecting it for this album's track list and to knight it by doing so.
This track is great when you listen to it in the car, you only have to be a little careful and check for speed cameras! The only drawback is the fade out at the end - again. Why this is I cannot tell.
But apart from this, this track will make you smile and nod our head along. It's like a short break from the intense thoughtfulness that is the rest of the album.
Bridge over troubled water
I cannot express to satisfaction just how delighted I was to hear this song was on the precious track list. Yes, again we were lucky enough to have him test this song live before recording it. But you know how these things are. You become very attached to a song and want it to be just right on the CD. So I braced myself when I reached track number 6. But my fears were unfounded.
It starts with a nice little twinkly (I am okay with those in here…but will get to them a few songs later), the quiet instrumentation keeps to the back when he starts to sing. This is one of those songs that sound simple but are in truth most demanding. It's not easy to sing this one properly and it must be a tiny bit nerve-racking to compete with a legend. But there is no need to be scared. He does well. It's a profound song that remained relevant for so many years. And I do think it is good he didn't record it sooner.
For eventhough this song above all others is in many aspects rather similar to those recorded in 1994 on the afore mentioned One Careful Owner, it still asks for a bit more. He uses the higher register of his voice, just as he did in let's say Lovers We Were, but he does it in a more experienced way this time. It's more poignant and stresses the sincerity and honesty of this wonderful piece to full effect.
And also the almost breathed rather than sung passages, strongly reminiscent of the wonderful Take My Breath Away, come along with the skill of an experienced performer who knows his voice so well and is in full command. That is quite an interesting mix, this sound of a younger Michael Ball combined with the maturity of ten years of learning and refining.
All in all Mr. Ball takes us onto an exciting journey through the full variety of his colourful voice and down memory lane with his interpretation of this golden classic.
And I love you so
This track is a light jazz number. This will undoubtedly thrill those fans who demanded a jazz-y album for years. I have to confess that it's just not my kind of music. The melody flows on like a quiet stream. I'd say this is the least experimental of the tracks recorded. It's a sincere love song, the kind of track people would expect on a MB album.
His voice is clear and enticing as always and he delivers the romantic lines effortless and true.
Your JB.N reporter has patiently waited for well over five years to hear that Michael will record this song and finally he has! I saw him do it in his TV show from 1994 (the episode with Joe Cocker) and hoped he would come back to it eventually. And yet again I think it was good to wait.
Unlike the usual slow and quiet love songs this here is about growing up as a man. It's about maturity, about allowing commitment instead of being the independent cowboy, who is cool but alone. This is not sung to charm a woman but to bring a man to his senses. And this shift in perspective alone is reason enough for me to love this track.
It's only an indirect love song. It praises love as the one thing that will make life easier and better without being kitschy about it. The song is the voice of reason. Especially the line: “freedom, well, that's just some people talkin', your prison is walking through this world all alone.” is just so clever and true. This song reveals a bit of the male soul and is a wonderful quiet display of vulnerability.
“Let somebody love you, before it's too late” is the closing verse. How very true.
Life on Mars
Ever since I first him do this song at the Donmar Warehouse in his one man show I was desperate for him to record it. It may be not a track you'd think of first when you hear the name Michael Ball but, oh it should be!
He thankfully continued to sing it in concert to great effect. Only a big venue can satisfactorily cope with those big, long notes that seem to soar to the sky (straight to Mars?) so furiously. Whenever you look around when he performs it, you see people stare open-mouthed. It has this exceptional power that will make you hold your breath. Its bitter cynicism and cryptic lyrics surely invite everyone to their own interpretation of what is actually being sung about, which is exactly what a good poem (songs are nothing but poems with a soundtrack, aren't they?) should do. As the observant reader may have sussed by now this song is one of your reporter's favourites of all times. And I do not even try to hide my bias.
My interpretation of the song is mainly about repeating old patterns and being disappointed by yourself and the empty promises of the world around you, an escapist song. For full analysis you may read our Singular Sensations review.
Anyway, so similar to Show Must Go On this song celebrates music at its best, as it cannot fail but touch you deep down inside. It's timeless and it's huge.
But…yes, there is always a but. Well, most of the time. The studio arrangement. Twinklies? Why open a song like this with twinklies? It's not really romantic. I suppose it should make us think of the stars above, and it does. But this is too sweet a sound for the tough lyrics, in my humble opinion. The rest is fine, though I have to say I still prefer it without the string section. The energetic live arrangement reflects the raw nature of the song to much greater effect, I feel. Well, I guess it is tempting to use an orchestra when you have one.
In contrast to Show Must Go on this song is not faded out though, which I will be eternally grateful for.
Four stars out of five for this track.
I am loved
This is becoming a much appreciated tradition. With each new album we get one self-penned song of Mr. Ball himself. I am quite sure it was a bit scary to record your own track on an album that is swarming with the big classis of popular music. But no need to worry. Naturally all the fan world is rather eager on those songs, as they allow you a brief understanding of the poet's soul, a very intimate moment. And again this glimpse of his soul is a declaration of love. Quite true to his Welsh ancestry Mr. Ball became a real bard, singing songs of love for his love. Naturally this is only one way of interpreting it.
I for one think it is a fresh and open love song that celebrates the best feeling in the world: being loved for simply being yourself (or despite being yourself!) and against all odds. Singing a song like this for someone, anyone, must be the most honest way of saying Thank you - and the most beautiful way, too.
My favourite lines surely have to be “there is no magic when you're gone, I know where my heart belongs” and “One thing I am sure of is I am loved”. The most important sentiment of all and I am sure we can all agree, he definitely is loved.
The backing vocals are cleverly arranged to create a bit of a call and response sound and the whole song is pretty straight forward.
Sometimes when we touch
This track is my secret favourite of them all. I knew this song for years but I never really paid attention to its amazing lyrics! “I'd rather hurt you honestly than mislead you with a lie” or “at times I'd like to break you and drag you to your knees” are lines that reveal a lot about the darker side of love, which is intriguing seeing the very romantic musical arrangement of the song. It's all about ambiguity. I have to quote a few more extraordinary lines here: “But through the insecurity some tenderness survives” and “[I'm] a hesitant prize fighter still trapped within my youth” go back to the theme of (would be) freedom and immaturity versus commitment and intimacy.
Mr. Ball again applies all his storytelling skills here. It's not merely sung but acted. You can hear the uncertainty of the protagonist, but you also hear him try to overcome the fears and inhibitions…but also the other side to loving and longing. An aspect that is rarely focussed on in a song that opens with twinklies (yeah, they are back).
I know I am repeating myself, but this is one more example of an honest lyric and masterful rendition that make this album so special.
To write these little song analysis I keep listening to one track on repeat for a considerable amount of time. This is one of the songs that I could have listened to for another hour non stop, no problem. Every time I listen to it I find a new, interesting interpretation for a line or a word or a note. This song is not a love song but a relationship song. It's amazing. He manages to actually sound vulnerable while delivering some very macho lines! Six stars out of five.
The theme tune (to stay true to soundtrack terms). Music was his first love and it will be his last. We know this is true in Michael Ball's case and so it comes as no surprise that this song is performed with a passion. “To live without my music would be impossible to do” he declares and we believe him. Thank heavens, we need more of albums like this! Full marks for the final piece of this remarkable album. 6 minutes of bliss. Lean back and enjoy. Here it is: the ultimate pop anthem performed by the ultimate voice. What more can a girl want?
On a final note:
Unlike most people I am very happy when Michael records cover versions. As that way I get the best possible interpretation on CD, for lets be honest: some of the greatest songs in pop history were performed by singers with not the greatest VOICES in pop history. No need to fear with Michael Ball. You may not agree with the arrangement at times but his voice will never fail to impress and so I am grateful to find many of my favourites on this wonderful album. Finally sung by a voice that matches the greatness of each and every song chosen here.
Huge songs require a huge sound.