Anyone who’s familiar with Seth MacFarlane’s rather copious animated output knows one thing: the man loves music. On Family Guy especially, characters regularly burst into song. Considering that MacFarlane voices many of the main characters himself, he gets a frequent showcase for his vocal abilities. What you may not know is that when completely removed from Fox’s animated line-up, he’s also a fabulous singer with fantastic taste in material.
Music Is Better Than Words is MacFarlane’s first recording not tied to one of his animated shows. It’s not a novelty record in any way, shape or form. This isn’t The Simpsons Sing The Blues (thank goodness). MacFarlane has performed places like the Halls Albert and Carnegie and has trained with Frank Sinatra’s vocal coaches. He’s a serious singer who’s recorded a serious album of jazz standards filled with sincere love for the songs.
MacFarlane possesses a beautiful, rich baritone singing voice that can only be described as a perfect crooner. It’s reminiscent of Sinatra and Dean Martin in its tone, and MacFarlane has great control of his instrument. His phrasing, in particular, is quite impressive and is on center stage with the rambunctious “The Sadder But Wiser Girl,” one of the album’s many highlights.
The whole album, in fact, is reminiscent of the crooner-era recordings. The songs were recorded onto analog tape, not digitally, and MacFarlane recorded his vocals in the same room as the sizable orchestra backing him up, meticulously arranged and composed by Joel McNeely. Even the microphone he uses is a throwback to that time: MacFarlane got permission from the Smithsonian to use Sinatra’s original microphone. The result is a warm, lush album filled with bright tones and a very distinct solidity. There’s no Pro Tools or Auto-Tune here, just a full, natural sound.
MacFarlane’s personality comes out most not in his vocals, although it’s there in spades, but in his choice of songs. While the songs are considered standards, by and large they’re lesser-known and lesser-recorded works. MacFarlane hasn’t reached for the obvious songs that most people, including people who aren’t into jazz or standards, would know. Instead, he’s selected songs he personally enjoys, and that’s clear in the performance.
There are quite a few excellent recordings in this album, starting with the opening track “It’s Anybody’s Spring.” It immediately sets the tone for the album with its pitch-perfect recreation of the era’s biggest hits. “You And I” and “You’re the Cream in My Coffee” have an effortless swing in both the vocals and instruments. “Something Good” and “Anytime, Anywhere” are ballads guaranteed to make the listener swoon with each legato phrase in the melody.
The biggest stand-outs would have to be “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” and “Love Won’t Let You Get Away,” the latter a duet with Sara Bareilles. “Sadder” is the most energetic song on the album, and MacFarlane’s voice is in perfect form. It’s the only song on the album that sounds like one of his characters. (There are a number of times when the listener’s reminded of Brian Griffin, who speaks essentially in MacFarlane’s natural voice.) “Get Away” is simply fantastic, with MacFarlane and Bareille’s voices playing gorgeously off of each other, a wonderful match of tone and caliber.
The album’s not perfect by any sense of the word, though. The longest song on the album is also the weakest. “It’s Easy to Remember” is (warning: pun ahead) easy to forget, or at least it would be if not for a climax that leaves the otherwise very tonal MacFarlane on highly pitchy ground. MacFarlane often goes into his upper register on many songs, and his voice here is not as strong, although he doesn’t lose control of his tone and phrasing. Finally, his duet with Norah Jones, “Two Sleepy People,” is a bit of a miss. Both MacFarlane and Jones have wonderful voices, and the song itself is great, but the two of them sound like they’re singing on separate continents. Their voices don’t mesh well together, especially when compared to the much stronger duet between MacFarlane and Barielles.
Overall, this album is nothing less than the definition of a very pleasant surprise. MacFarlane is a very talented singer; he’s assembled a discography’s worth of talented people to assist him; and with only two exceptions, has recorded an entire album of highly enjoyable jazz and swing tunes. He’s just as skilled as Harry Connick, Jr, or Michael Buble, and he looks just as smashing in a tuxedo. This is an album that almost commands repeat listens and is so solid that it makes you overlook the few times it falters. I, for one, will eagerly be looking forward to more recordings from MacFarlane…and I’ll be swooning over this one for quite a while.
Rating: 8 out of 10 / B+
JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and thinks Seth MacFarlane is SOOO dreamy.<a href="http://www.fanboysoftheuniverse.com/index.php/forums/member/21/" title="