Matthew Morrison | Matthew Morrison (Mercury)

Morrison’s Broadway credentials attest that he has the goods, but you won’t find evidence on this album of anything that would set him apart from any number of other sweet-voiced pop performers.

 

 

While much of the attention surrounding Glee is rightly on the young performers, their choir director is also quite accomplished. Among other things, Matthew Morrison (who plays Will Schuester) originated the role of Link Larkin in the stage musical Hairspray and that of Fabrizio Nacarelli in The Light in the Piazza (for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor) and was also the original Lieutenant Joseph Cable in Bartlett Sher’s acclaimed revival of South Pacific.

The song selection and presentation on his self-titled debut is remarkably similar to that of Glee—eclectic, heavily produced, a bit unfocused, and featuring lots of celebrity cameos (Gwyneth Paltrow, Sting, Elton John). To carry the analogy a little further, the singer Matthew Morrison on this album appears to have a problem similar to that of the character he plays on Glee; he doesn’t know who he is, or at least he’s not willing to share that knowledge with the world. The result is a listenable album, but one that doesn’t leave a strong impression or make a compelling case for Morrison as a solo performer.

Too bad; Morrison’s Broadway credentials attest that he has the goods, but you won’t find evidence on this album of anything that would set him apart from any number of other sweet-voiced pop performers. Nothing, in other words, to match a performance like Chris Colfer’s heartfelt "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (completely rethinking the song in a way that is radically different from the original performance, yet makes perfect sense in context) in the third episode of the second season of Glee, or Lea Michele knocking "Don’t Rain on My Parade" out of the park in the finale to the first season.

The choice of material is also disappointing. The strongest songs are covers: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with Gwyneth Paltrow and "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters/Rocket Man" with Elton John. You just can’t beat a good E.Y. Harburg song, but even on this one Morrison seems to have constructed his performance out of bits and pieces of other people’s work, including Michael Feinstein (in the first verse Morrison sounds like he’s trying to do a Feinstein imitation, which at least proves he is willing to steal from the best) and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (the ukulele also makes an appearance in the album’s first cut, "Summer Rain"). Other cuts on the album include the up-tempo "Don’t Stop Dancing," "Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot" with Sting, "It Don’t Matter to the Sun," and several songs partly written by Morrison: "Summer Rain," "My Name," "Hey," and "It’s Over."

The bottom line is that Gleeks will surely want this album, but as for the rest of us, I’d wait for the follow-up and hope it shows us a little more of who Matthew Morrison is, musically at least. B | Sarah Boslaugh

RIYL: Glee; Celine Dion’s My Love.

 

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