Okay, on paper, it sounds pretty damned weird — operatic crooner Josh Groban rolling the dice on his just-released fifth album, “Illuminations,” by partnering with veteran Metallica-Beastie Boys producer Rick Rubin. A true “Really?!” kind of moment: Not the kind of career move you’d expect from Billboard Magazine’s 14th top-selling artist of the 2000s.
Add to that the man’s new songwriting partner for six tracks — Semisonic’s brainy Dan Wilson — and you could have a recipe for surefire, fan-offending career disaster.
But this, of course, completely underestimates the transformative power of Rubin, who helped revive the log-dormant careers of Neil Diamond and the late Johnny Cash. So the end result is still Groban, intoning with his trademark almost-Elizabethan phraseology on “Galileo,” “Hidden Away” and “Higher Window.” But there’s a new bare-bones quality to the work — even symphonic numbers such as “L’Ora Dell’Addio” and “Voce Existe Em Mim” — that gives him a longer creative leash, and an excuse to (very nearly) rock out.
Will the teamup make Groban hip with a whole new younger audience? Stay tuned — from the sound of the sweeping sonnet “Love Only Knows,” it could easily happen.