Donny Osmond

Donny Osmond

Somewhere In Time

Decca

Somewhere around the late ’90s, I started to develop what I have to call a sneaking little respect for Donny Osmond. I did not buy any of his records, but I did catch that VH-1 Behind The Music and other biographies, and the odd bit here and there of the new Donny and Marie (talk) Show. And I began to think well of him.

First, he was genuinely entertaining, something that should not be easily dismissed. Second, and this is the crucial redeeming feature for pop icons, he showed a sense of humor about himself, his family, and their past. Third and this relates to the second, he seemed human. Cultural emblems don’t always (cough, Christina Aguilera, cough).

Perhaps most impressively, we’re talking about someone who was famous from the time he was 11 years old — and we know from the examples of Michael Jackson and Mickey Rooney that more often than not, this can leave you batshit insane.

And indeed the ’80s, as those of us who watched that Behind The Music know, was a bit of decline for Donny. Sure, we all laughed at the Saturday Night Live parodies, but we weren’t the ones mocked in front of an audience who had once loved us and now pointed and laughed for fear of being un-hip and un-cool. Osmond also battled sometimes-crippling stage fright. So might you, if your Broadway musical debut had closed in one night. And then, at the end of the decade, something completely unexpected happened: Donny came back. He had hit singles again. And — shhhhhhhh! They were actually kinda good, in a radio sort of way (which is half the way home).

And he seemed to have come through it all more than once bitten, perhaps a little bit shy. But here to perform and sing for you and then go back to his wife and children at the end of the day. A Professional Entertainer. Nothing wrong with that.

As there is nothing really wrong with Somewhere In Time, a collection, as Osmond writes in the liner notes, of his favorite songs of the past. Nothing really wrong apart from, shall we say, a certain…dullness.

Tracks such as Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” and 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” pour Osmond’s voice over perfectly serviceable recreations of the original records. That voice is in mostly excellent form throughout; never let it be said that Donny Osmond cannot sing. Or even that he lacks a jot of that mystical, ill-defined thing called Blue-Eyed soul. If you doubt me, give a listen to his takes on Hall And Oates — “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” — and Charles and Eddie — “Would I Lie To You?”

Only on The Turtles’ “Happy Together” does he sound a little insipid, and that can be faulted to the watered-down arrangement at least as much, as well as the fact that the original record is almost impossible to top.

But sometimes the songs arrangements are recreated too slavishly, Earth Wind and Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone” being a good example. As always with covers, the best do some reinterpreting. And now, something of a true confession: For reasons past remembering or understanding, one of the very first singles I ever bought was an old copy of Osmond’s 1972 hit “Puppy Love,” at least five years after it came out. I think I must have liked the Donny And Marie TV show and all the purple socks jokes at the time (when I was five). Because I certainly don’t remember knowing or liking the song. But it turns up here in an oddly effective version recasting Donny as the older man looking back on his youth.

That track is produced by veteran Phil Ramone, arrangement and production of the rest of the album is by Gary Barlow, formerly of huge-in-the-UK, who’s-that-in-the-US pop group Take That, Eliot Kennedy and Tim Woodcock. They have provided a smooth, almost too-perfect backing for Osmond’s glossy-mag of musical photographs. It’s utterly entertaining and just as undeniably tepid.

This whole review has worked out to be damning with faint praise, so let me just say this: There’s almost no part of Somewhere In Time which I actively disliked, and a fair share which I enjoyed very much. It’s just…

PS: There is a hidden 13th bonus track on this CD, a new version of The Osmond Brothers’ “Crazy Horses.” The original record of this, on which Donny did not sing, holds a dual distinction of having been sampled by “grebo” gurus Pop Will Eat Itself and cited by author Chuck Eddy as one of The Five Hundred Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe.

Which has nothing to do with this album, but I just think it’s kinda cool. And the cover does close the album with a nice exclamation point.

Donny Osmond: http://www.donny.com

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