Sarah Brightman’s latest album ‘Hymn’ is a classical record masquerading as a pop record. Or is it the other way around? I can’t decide. It’s my first encounter with Ms. Brightman’s music (better late than never I say), so I won’t judge its place amongst her impressive catalog, but on its own, it has plenty of things to like.
Sarah Brightman, who was once married to Andrew Lloyd Weber, was the original Jemima in ‘Cats’, and Weber wrote the role of Christine in ‘Phantom of the Opera’ specifically for her. Her career spans decades and a multitude of awards and accolades (more than 180 gold and platinum awards in over 40 countries!). In recent years, she started training as an astronaut in Russia (for real!) with the goal of travelling to the International Space Station. She eventually abandoned the idea, and in an effort to ground herself again (no pun intended), she recorded this album.
‘Hymn’ the kind of album you put on in the warmth of your home, lazily lounging about with a cup of hot cocoa in your hands, while watching the snow fall outside. (This made my initial decision to play it in the car while stuck in traffic commuting to work all the more painful.) The opening title track sings of Jesus’ virgin birth, so I think I can be excused for thinking this was a Christmas record until I was 4-5 songs in!
This is going to sound stupid, but this album is like a musical Mini Wheat: sugary on one side and healthy and safe on the other. The pop songs have this ‘feel good movie end credits’ vibe, or maybe something you’d hear in a Disney movie. That movie vibe shouldn’t surprise anyone: ‘Canto Per Noi’ was co-written by famed film composer Ennio Morricone, ‘Sky and Sand’ is from the movie ‘Berlin Calling’, and ‘Follow Me’ is from ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’. Her rendition of the latter has a sort of timeless twist to it that makes it contemporary and vintage at the same time. The classical pieces, on the other hand, are less adventurous, but bring a certain gravitas to the record that balance out the sweetness.
‘Fly to Paradise’, with its uplifting chorus, stands out for me as the high point of the album, probably because if you added a few distorted guitar chords, it wouldn’t sound out of place on the records of a number of female-fronted symphonic metal bands. And then there’s “Time to Say Goodbye”, a piece originally sung in Italian by Andrea Bocelli, and in English by Bocelli and Brightman. I’d heard it a million times but never knew its name. Ms. Brightman’s solo rendition is more subdued, and dare I say it, less pretentious, and it’s the first time I’ve truly enjoyed this song. By blending the pop and classical aesthetics of the album, it serves as the perfect coda for ‘Hymn’.
Regular readers will realize this isn’t the genre of music I usually write about, but I liked the record for the timely winter vibe, Sarah Brightman’s voice, and the overall cinematic vibe. It’s a little too sugary at time, but hey, used in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with that. And if you’re tired of rocking around the Christmas tree, and your bells are all jingled out, this could make a nice secular soundtrack to your holidays.
Sarah Brightman is heading out on a huge world tour consisting of 125 dates, including 3 in Canada. She’ll be in Laval February 9th 2018 at Place Bell, and it promises to be a spectacular concert. Tickets are on sale at evenko.ca.
He's also a regular contributor at the excellent news site Montreal Rampage
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