Sunday, December 7, 2014

Michael Bolton - Timeless: The Classics, Vol. 2 (1999)

A sequel to Michael Bolton's Timeless: The Classics album - the very thought makes as much sense as John Wilkes Booth revisiting Ford's Theater after shooting Abraham Lincoln. For listening to this record is very much like watching a criminal return to the scene of his crime.
Timeless: The Classics Vol. 2 finds Bolton laying waste to eleven songs this time instead of ten. The best thing I can say about this collection of covers is that it isn't any worse than the original 1992 record. In fact, it may even be marginally better, if only because Bolton gave it everything he got on the first Timeless album and succeeded in making an album that started out horribly and just kept getting worse; on Timeless: The Classics Vol. 2, he doesn't even seem to be trying. He sings every song the same way, as if he were reciting words off a page. Most of the cuts here have the same innocuous, standardized arrangements you'd find in smooth jazz. Timeless: The Classics Vol. 2 sucks, no question about it, but it doesn't suck big time like its predecessor, and Bolton doesn't reach for greater and grander levels of suckiness in his vocal delivery.
Even his selection of material is to be called into question. The original Timeless: The Classics, awful as it was, contained songs that at least sounded like they belong together on the same album (preferably an album by a real blue-eyed soul singer like Joe Cocker). Bolton's taste in material remained impeccable, but the songs chosen for this record mostly sound random next to each other. Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do For Love" is a good song, but not a great one, and Bolton sings it like he threw it in as an afterthought (Go West recorded the definitive cover of this song, and possibly the definitive version overall). And what was Bolton thinking by covering "Like a Rolling Stone?" Bob Dylan's masterpiece loses all of its meaning in this supper-club rendition, and it doesn't sit well next to Bolton's paint-by-number remake of Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain." And the less said about his useless cover of Sam Cooke's "(What A) Wonderful World," the better, although Bolton at least didn't add a new and unnecessary verse like Art Garfunkel did in his 1978 cover of this song with Paul Simon and James Taylor. But then that would have given Bolton another verse to consider the meaning of before he sang it. Small wonder he relies so much on backup vocalists on this LP.
The rest of the covers here are interesting because of how Bolton gets everything wrong. He takes Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" (!), Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," and no fewer than two Al Green songs ("Tired of Being Alone, "Let's Stay Together") and turns them into Las Vegas revue fare. On the Temptations' "My Girl," he sounds stodgy, and on Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," he sounds like he's ready to take a nap.  Bolton closes out with a blues-based guitar arrangement on Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" to show that he can rock. Uh, no, he can't. No one who remembers his early-eighties heavy-metal period would call him a rocker, and his cover of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is just as colorless as the rest of the record. Call this LP what Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell called Pat Boone's work: A Paler Shade of White.
Wait! Why am I wasting time talking about Timeless: The Classics Vol. 2? Because there's no evidence that anyone else bothered to waste time listening to it. Timeless: The Classics Vol. 2 actually failed to make the Billboard album chart. H.L. Mencken may have been correct when he wrote that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people - many fortunes have certainly been made underestimating the intelligence of American record buyers - but the millions of people who bought Michael Bolton's first Timeless album in 1992 had clearly wised up by 1999, leaving no one for him to con a second time.

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