~ JustBall.Net ~ 30/10/2017 ~
Michael’s an Alfie’s first collaboration “Together” was the most successful album released in 2016, out-selling even the Rolling Stones! The received double-Platinum status, were Christmas #1 and their tour was not only sold out in a heartbeat but was extended again and again. They were last year’s chart sensation.
It came as no surprise then when Decca announced that there would be a follow up album, aptly titles “Together Again” released one year later. Two fandoms and a grudgingly impressed pop world awaited the new collaboration with a mix of trepidation (can this be as good as the first one?) and eagerness (they make such a beautiful sound together, it will be awesome!).
And on Friday, 27 October 2017 finally came the release day after another brilliant social media marketing campaign which culminated in a whirlwind world record attempt: “Most album signing events by a group within 24 hours” They were chauffeured and helicoptered across the country and signed over 600 albums at 5 HMV stores in the UK. And by the end of the (long) day Mr. Ball and Mr. Boe could add another accolade to their names: World Record holders.
So here are our impressions with the songs (and yes, we did pre-order the album months ago, it naturally hasn’t arrived in Germany yet, but we could not wait and thus downloaded it to sneak in an early listening, too curious to wait another week!):
1. West Side Story Medley
The album kicks off with an eight minute (!) medley of West Side Story’s greatest hits. Eight minutes of bliss for every West Side Story fan for sure. They start with the Mambo scene before cleverly fading into “Maria”. This gives the album a proper overture. You can tell it’s composed by stage performers who know about story arcs and how to open a show.
Michael and Alfie’s voices blend together as if they were always meant to sing with each other. We are transported back to the joyous first listen to Together when we heard this magic happen for the first time. This Maria is a very lucky woman. As we are Michael fans we have heard him sing those songs many a time either in TV specials (if you can get your hands on him and Lesley Garrett singing Tonight together go and get the video!) or an album version of the show. This made it such a surprise to hear a fresh take with Alfie as a duet partner. It’s intriguing to guess who will sing which line. The arrangement is faultless and the songs melt into one another. Something’s Coming has been a concert opener for Michael for quite a while, so hearing it as a duet was different but good. They can do fervent prayer, they can do fast paced and hyped up. The medley really showcases the many facets of their voices beautifully. Tonight, of course, was their show opener for the tour last year and we knew it would work incredibly well. This version is not the same as the up-tempo version we know but true to the original score, full of hope and big emotion. It’s different when a singer has performed a certain song live a lot. They then know every beat, what will work and what won’t, so you will get a very polished version for an album recording. But a recording is a very different beast from a live show, so never expect the same vibe or interpretation. This is big, bold and very polished. The orchestra is a dream with a rich sound yet never overpowering. This medley certainly sets the bar high for the rest of the album.
2. As if we never said goodbye
Sunset Boulevard. What else. Norma Desmond sung by two men. And why not? Alfie opens the song before Michael takes his turn. But whilst both voices are extraordinary in their own, the true magic happens when they sing together and their voices gel and become one. It does not matter if it’s the blissful ultra-soft notes that lull you or the powerful money notes, which surely must have a measurable effect on your heart rate. Not lulling at all! This song, surprisingly, lends itself incredibly well for duetting. This approach gives a new dimension even to this well-loved a classic. “We taught the world new ways to dream” is the (adapted) iconic last line. They surely taught the world new ways to experience a musical standard.
3. The Prayer
Again we have heard this sung ever so often by Michael in concert and he has also recorded it on one of his solo albums (“Past and Present”). It’s a duet, so we heard him perform it with a series of very talented female singers. When the song list was published, this choice seemed to be the most controversial in discussions. What? A duet like this performed by two men? Really, we wondered. Is this even an issue in this day and age? It’s not even a love song (and even if it were…!). It’s a prayer. So, does it work as a duet with a man? But of course it does! Yet again it’s arranged with a twist. Softly Michael sings the first lines…. Hang on …. Michael? Yes, he took the part that was usually performed by his female duet partner. Those lines are perfect for him. Velvety baritone heaven. And then Alfie joins in (as an opera singer, we kinda expected him to be given the lines in Italian ;-)) and it’s a triumph. Another winner and we surely hope to hear it during the upcoming tour (even if it is very demanding live). The switch of roles works very well and makes it a whole new experience. The complement each other so well, a joy for the ears (and heart).
4. He lives in you
This was a new song for us. So we didn’t really know what to expect. It’s from the Lion King and that that rhythm draws you in instantly. And then there is the glorious choir. They sing with great precision and provide a beautiful sound cloud for the two men’s voices to shine. Another instant hit with us. It’s different to the songs before as it has a distinct pop vibe, definitely more of a pop song. We defy you to sit still. It’s very catchy and also mysterious and all kinds of wonderful.
From The Beauty and the Beast. Many wished for them to record it, for us it’s a new song. It’s definitely beautiful and they do plenty of the magical voice blending. Powerful ending, it would certainly work very well in a concert.
6. The Rose
This was probably the biggest surprise for us when the song list was released. It’s such an iconic Michael song. Due to its personal history (read all about his charity ROC on our website) for Michael and to having heard him sing it countless times, always breaking our hearts anew it always felt like his very own, private hymn. Thus we approached this one with caution. The opening is a bit different; it begins with an instrumental intro before the usual piano melody. Maybe a sign to please hear this with open ears, hearts and minds as it’s a different incarnation of his song? It works, if you let it. All the emotion is still there. Massive orchestra, great backing singers and a very sensitive approach by the two lead vocalists. It still breaks our hearts.
7. Bring me Sunshine
After they have been compared to Morecambe & Wise over and over again, it was no surprise that they would include a song by them. Not a power house ballad, maybe a respite after the big emotions in The Rose. It’s a classic big band number and as such probably not our favourite kind of music. This does not mean we cannot appreciate the very polished delivery and the amazing big band itself. It’s a swinging melodious number that you can easily see as part of the tour. (They did excel in the Rat Pack numbers last year).
8. Some enchanted evening
On an album like this you can never go wrong with including a Sinatra classic… or two. What can we say? They do romance very well. Their velvety voices just nail this one, solo and, of course, our favourite: together.
That moment when you see the song list and think: Okay, don’t know that one. Then you just listen to the whole album once and think: Hang on, that sounds familiar. And you discover it’s a song you always enjoyed to listening to on the radio, but never knew what it’s called. It’s a bit more up tempo again and has a distinct new country feeling to it. Just what the album needed at this point before getting a little too mellow. Beautiful guitar solo, too.
10. Not while I’m around
Another Michael classic, we’ve heard him sing ever so often. Then he did Sweeney Todd and we’ve heard it for the first time in context. Before, it’s been a lovely love song or song for a child, now it will forever carry a chilling undertone for us. Sweeney Todd will do that to you. Anyhow, it’s a Sondheim masterpiece, so naturally two musical performers can do it justice. And again it works very well sung as a duet. So even when you think you have heard this one a million times, try this version one more time to hear it presented in this new way.
11. Stranger in Paradise / This is my Beloved
Known to us as the Kismet Medley from Michael’s tour prior to him meeting Alfie for the first time when they worked together in the infamous production of Kismet at the ENO in 2007. In the show these two songs were Alfie’s, so we’ve heard both of them sing them individually (as we actually enjoyed Kismet for it’s beautiful music and went several times despite the production’s ….let’s say challenges). What a beautiful way to celebrate their first collaboration. Stranger in Paradise is a sweet song, almost innocent. But then comes the more dramatic This is my Beloved. And personally, just that final line of it is worth the album price alone. Money notes galore!
12. You’re The Voice
We remembered it as a nice pop song from our youth and childhood. Our excuse: We were just children without any grasp of English. Our perception of the song changed dramatically when we heard that it was the adopted national anthem in Australia. So then we listened to the lyrics for the first time, understanding the powerful message for peace and change. “Make a noise and make it clear, we’re not gonna sit in silence, we’re not gonna live with fear” Powerful lines in today’s times. Also they hark back to the sentiments of Les Misérables and Do you hear the people sing. Definitely a firm favourite on this album: Great drums, wonderful backing vocals and a rousing rendition from Michael and Alfie. It makes you realise how true and how poignant those words still are, some 30 years later, when the world seems to be at turning point and everyone should remember, there is always a choice.
13. New York New York
Different way to start a song: with street sounds and police horns, but it automatically transports you to the Big Apple. This has become a favourite during the summer tour this year and just lends itself to the guy’s style of singing. It is also a nod to their successes on Broadway. And come on, who doesn’t love a bit of Frank?
14. White Christmas
Probably the most iconic Christmas songs of all times. And here the dynamic duo becomes a trio, as they cleverly montaged Bing Crosby’s voice into their version. It really almost feels as if they did record it together. A shout out to the clever arrangers! A very festive final note to the album.
When the Together project first began we were rather sceptical. While both have an amazing sense of humour and are undoubtedly artists on top of their game, we were not quite sure whether these two very different voices could really blend. Well, it turned out that they could, and beautifully so. We were quite surprised just how much we enjoyed Together and thus were happy to hear there would be a sequel.
Together Again to us is a triumph. The album has tremendous production values. You can tell it’s been produced with love and dedication. The sound is utterly divine, an amazing orchestra, a wonderful big band, spot on choir and both Bs singing like a dream. They showcase each other’s strengths, it’s never a competition. The individual lines are picked carefully, sometimes to surprise, mostly to highlight their different voices and then they make the magic happen and blend together. Never a gimmick but used to best effect. In our opinion (admittedly not unbiased ;-)) the album is definitely worth all the advance praise.
Our only teeny tiny regret is the cover art. That sounds superficial in the extreme, but these are two very attractive gentlemen, no need to airbrush them quite so much…and put them in front of a colourful sunset sky. But as this is just the packaging of an otherwise faultless album, it hardly matters. Lesson learned: Don’t judge a CD by its cover.
When you liked Together, you will love Together Again – and if you didn’t, we are amazed you are even reading this review. Only kidding, if you didn’t give the lads another chance. They might surprise you.
Go buy, people! Christmas is sorted.