Review of John Barrowman’s “Another Side”

On the face of it, ‘Another Side’ seems like a surprising title for John Barrowman’s new album, released today in the UK via Sony BMG. After all, most fans of the openly gay Torchwood and Doctor Who actor are likely to be aware that he has a background in musical theater, having appeared in shows from Anything Goes to Sunset Boulevard in London’s West End. The new album, a set of covers which put an easy-listening spin on classic pop, soft rock, and yes, musical theater numbers might therefore seem to be displaying a fairly recognizable side of Barrowman, as opposed to, say, an album full of heavy-metal music.

I started off by listening to the covers of songs I was already familiar with: Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”, and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”. As you might expect from a musical theater star, Barrowman’s voice is light, smooth and elegant, without a crack in it. He also clearly enunciates every word, something that can’t necessarily be said of the pop stars he’s covering.

His voice is very pleasant to the ears, but as I’ve also felt listening to his musical theater recordings in the past, he has more trouble touching the heart or provoking an emotional response. Missing the haunting quality from “Time After Time,” and the edgy sarcasm and world-weariness that gave a kick to “You’re So Vain,” I couldn’t help feeling like these versions offered less instead of more.

Two other covers of songs I knew, Bryan Adams’ “Heaven,” and the pop crooner’s standard “All By Myself” (most famously sung by Celine Dion), are sung competently without really adding anything to their originals.

It’s on Sondheim’s “Being Alive,” possibly the album’s best track, that Barrowman really takes off. His voice soars on an up-tempo version of the song that stands out on the mostly slower-paced album. Barrowman has played Bobby in Company, and the song clearly comes naturally to him, making you wish that perhaps a few more musical theater numbers could have been included in the track list.

He gives a sultry, assured rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” and another standout comes with a cover of The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” introducing a Latin beat and then kicking in with a full mariachi band for the chorus. The full-on style suits Barrowman’s exuberant personality, and it’s here that he sounds most turned-on, awake, and as if he is enjoying himself.

It’s just a shame that more of that personality isn’t evident in the remainder of the tracks, a series of romantic ballads that include Elton John’s “Your Song,” Billy Joel’s “She’s Always A Woman,” and Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England.” The last, in particular, is a piece of marshmallowy goo that sends the album into mom/grandma territory (which, admittedly, is probably the primary market the album is intended for).

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