Il Divo: Four male supermodels singing operatic love songs? What was Simon thinking?

May 3, 2005 (Updated Jan 28, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:hey wow – these walking Armani billboards can actually sing!

Cons:but if you close your eyes and listen, are they really THAT good?

The Bottom Line: Love him or hate him, Simon Cowell is no dummy. He knows what sells; his Il Divo features decently talented young men who also happen to be fabulously good looking…

Simon Cowell is not a stupid man.

Despite the constant boos from the audience behind him as he destroys yet another American Idol hopeful's dreams with his honest, though barbed criticisms, Cowell knows exactly what he is doing. He is pulling the strings of the audience behind him and of those many millions watching him at home. For the most part, it has worked – Simon has gotten good results with his shows; the worldwide Idol franchise has produced several singing sensations, and in the process has made Cowell's production company quite successful.

Simon has a nose for "the next big thing", which in today's pop music industry most likely doesn't mean the next Sinatra, Beatles, Madonna or Nirvana. Today's next big thing will probably last only a very short time, and then will be out of the collective consciousness of the pop audience just as quickly. Cowell knows that he has to get in on the ground floor of music trends in order to get maximum value.

Of course, it doesn't hurt if you have a ready made assembly line like Idol with which to craft the next big thing, but Simon also knows to hedge his bets. If he can create a marketable product all on his own, he has much greater control of how it will be presented, and those who he will target as the niche market. He's kept his eyes trained on the worldwide pop music scene, and within the last couple years, he must have spotted the trend many refer to as "popera" – that lightly operatic, romantically inclined music performed by the likes of Josh Groban, Russell Watson and others. Attractive men singing ballads in the "romance" languages are practically guaranteed to make many a female heart skip a beat or two, (OK – it's not just for the ladies, but I'll get to that in a minute) and the money for this sort of thing seems to flow out of their purses just as quickly as their undies are thrown to the stage.

Of course, why settle for one handsome leading man if you can widen your audience by offering four men over whom to swoon?
Strike a Pose

Cowell rounded up some seed money from a few of the major players in the European music industry, and began to search the world for his quartet. He found what he was looking for in the United States, Switzerland, France, and Spain, and though he must have been scouting for real singing talent, I have to wonder if the look of the group was his primary focus. The four men he chose to become Il Divo are – how to put this and still retain a secure sense of masculinity? – heck with it; these four men are hot.

That's "hot" as in "really, really, really ridiculously good looking" and "that Hansel, he's so HOT right now". I'm talking massively unfair gene pool hoarding here, OK? Ladies – help me out…you know what I'm talking about, right? Their names may not roll off the tongue as easily as John, Paul, George and Ringo, but David, Urs, Sebastien and Carlos will set those same tongues drooling with their catwalk-ready looks and Giorgio Armani styling.

My guess is that the average Il Divo fan will take the time to gaze thoroughly at the several photos included in the booklet that comes with this CD before they give the lyrics or credits any attention. From the Armani suited camaraderie of the photo on the cover to the smoky individual head shots inside, many might forget for a moment that these guys also sing. My suspicious mind wonders why Urs is the only one wearing the striped tie on the cover, and the one carrying the bouquet of roses as the quartet strolls GQ-style across some ancient piazza... Is the foursome on its way to Urs' wedding, or are the other three merely tagging along for support as Urs searches for his lady love in order to woo her?

Fantasy scenarios abound in each fan's heart, I'm sure…
Beauty's where you find it…

It's one thing to gain the attention of every admiring eye in the piazza; it's quite another to hold that attention by serenading the object of your affection with gorgeously lush ballads sung in Spanish and Italian. Most of the songs were written for the album, but there are a couple American hits that were translated to Spanish and Italian in order to boost familiarity for the U.S. audience.

But exactly what are you in for when actually listening to Il Divo, rather than looking at them?

First, the album is definitely "popera" – orchestral arrangements of mostly Latin language ballads, usually featuring an acoustic guitar to give the songs an "authentic" atmosphere. Some may find the orchestral arrangements a bit cheesy for an album aimed at a pop audience, but I think that if you think of the songs as musical theater rather than pop radio, it will make more sense – it's all in your perception. There are no uptempo songs on the album; the songs are basically ballads and anthems that range from sentimental and syrupy to passionate and powerful. The production quality is quite good – the men's voices are mixed in a way that keeps them from being muddled in a mass of operatic vibrato when all four men sing together.

The vocals are somewhat operatic in sound, but opera's more strident vocalizations are dropped in favor of a pseudo-pop style. David, Urs and Carlos are all operatically trained singers, and each has experience on opera and musical stages – Sebastien is the only truly pop voice in the quartet, and as a soloist, he is fabulous, but his voice seems weak and thin when he harmonizes with the rest of the group. Carlos is the lone baritone with a very rich sound that some listeners may need to get used to, but personally, I love his tonal quality; he also has the best sheer power of the four men. David and Urs both provide solid tenor vocals throughout, and all three operatically trained singers display some ability for pop as well. Their sounds are more suited to the popular musical stage, and as such, I find their voices very pleasing.

Sometimes the vocals come off as just another version of the Three Tenors, with the singers simply trading lines for no apparent reason other than to share the song equally, but on some of the songs, the lead vocals are given primarily to one of the men while the others back him. This is where Il Divo is at it's best – I think this consistency gives these songs more emotional depth and impact.
let your body move to the music…

Toni Braxton's Unbreak My Heart was a huge hit for her several years ago, and much of that was due to Toni's incredible performance. She brought out the emotions of the song, and her extremely low alto made the song smolder even while it broke your heart. Il Divo's Spanish language version Regresa A Mi is heavy on the smolder, treading more lightly on the emotion, but it definitely works. All four men trade off various lines, and then sing the chorus together in harmony.

Passera - this song is basically a theatrical showstopper in style, and it showcases the three tenors of the group at their best, but it also reveals where Sebastien is relatively weak against the others. David and Urs trade off smoldering duties in the first verse, then pop hottie Sebastien comes in VERY nicely on the chorus, though I can't help but think he sounds like (a much improved) Dennis DeYoung every time he hits the high notes in this section. (All three sing with a passion that will no doubt induce some to consider tossing their undies during this song) As long as they are singing longer solos, it works very well, but when they start to trade off lines in quick succession, and then harmonize in the climactic chorus, Sebastien stands out noticeably as the weaker link. He doesn't sound BAD, it just that he doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the vocals here. I'm still undecided if this is a good thing or a bad thing, since at the very least, it keeps the sound from always sounding like light opera.

Il Divo also includes A Mi Manera, an Italian version of Frank Sinatra's signature song My Way and like Frank's later recordings of this song, it's a bit overblown - I'm also not sure it was even necessary to record this song. The album includes a bonus track, one of Simon's personal favorite songs – he stated as much when Clay Aiken belted out his sixty second version of Unchained Melody. I guess when the boss wants a song, Il Divo delivers, but though the popera arrangement is certainly different, it's certainly not anything special. After listening to the balance of the album, these two tracks don't seem as strong as the original material – they sound forced, much like the Three Tenors mangled some of the pop songs they attempted. I think that Cowell is padding the song list for the upcoming tour with familiar songs to interject between the originals as American audiences won't be able to understand them without subtitles.

I predict that Every Time I Close My Eyes and The Man You Love are the tracks that Simon will use to target American radio if Il Divo hits in the U.S. While the group went with the more recognizable Unbreak My Heart as their debut single when the album was released in Europe, and then the sentimental weep-fest Mama as the follow-up, these two tracks are the songs that I believe the screaming American throngs will die for. This is due to the simple fact that these two tracks are as close as Il Divo ventures to typical boy band fare. I'm sure that the videos for these will have lots of soft focus close-ups of each hottie as he smolders out his featured solo…I'm just waiting for the four men to show up on American Idol to prove that even though they're ridiculously good looking, they do have other talents. (not sure how Paula could possibly contain herself against such an onslaught of raging testosterone, but it will make for great TV if it happens)
Il Divo

Il Divo is another Simon Cowell creation, and I think that he has another winner with this group. Though they have already conquered Europe (which is far more open to popera than America has proven so far), it will be interesting to see how popular these four supermodels, I mean, singers will become here in the United States.

The four men of Il Divo are ridiculously stunning in appearance, but they aren't slouches vocally – these GQ-ready men can sing. Simply put - if you are a fan of Josh Groban and the like, if you enjoy musicals such as Les Miserables, then Il Divo is right up your alley. The rest of you should just plaster your walls with Il Divo posters and appreciate them on that level…
Il Divo - Il Divo
Originally released in the United States April 19, 2005 by Syco Music/Columbia Records

Track Listing
Unbreak My Heart (Regresa A Mi) / Mama / Nella Fantasia / Passera / Every Time I Look At You / Ti Amero / Dentro Un Altro Si / The Man You Love / Feelings / Hoy Que Ya No Estras Aqui / Sei Parte Ormai De Me / My Way (A Mi Manera) / Unchained Melody (hidden bonus track)

Official Website:

Related Reviews
Ancora (Il Divo's second album)
Josh Groban in Concert (CD/DVD)
Josh Groban: Live at the Greek (CD/DVD)

Quotes from:
Copyright © 1990 Madonna/Pettibone, Warner Borthers Records

Copyright © 2001 Paramount Pictures

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