In the age of reality TV contests, digital downloads and social media, it is hardly preposterous that Michael Auger, Richard Hadfield, Jamie Lambert, Matthew Pagan and Thomas J Redgrave only came together as Collabro in January, yet have already dropped an album.
The fact that the five lads look like a boyband but sound closer to Il Divo certainly contributed towards their winning ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ for 2014 and the release of their obligatory post-show album, Stars.
Collabro sound mostly at home on this compilation of covers (taken mainly from musicals), whose sugary, camp arrangements sound like an afterthought. It kicks off with the potentially lethal double-header from ‘Les Miserables’: Stars (the song performed during the group’s audition and triumphant performance in the final) and Bring Him Home (the song delivered in its semi-final act). These lack the theatricality of the original Broadway or West End performances one can find on YouTube, but Collabro makes up for it through loads of touching vibrato and glorious harmonies.
The group do just fine on a faithful version of the already iconic ‘Frozen’ highlight Let It Go. A highlight is Collabro’s choir-like evocation of the northern-flavoured, melancholic melodies of Anthem from ‘Chess’ (the 1980s Cold War-era musical composed by Sir Tim Rice and ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson).
However, there are moments where Collabro’s drive for timely perfection result in covers that are charmless compared to the originals.
A slow, overly precise version of One Republic’s Secrets with the words all drawn out has none of Ryan Tedder’s spontaneity and imperfections. Lines like ‘shiny big black cars’ clearly don’t sound right with an arrangement more suited to a Broadway/West End musical. Collabro fail to match the charisma of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor’s untrained yet intuitive performances on Come What May (from ‘Moulin Rouge!’), sounding rather forced by comparison.
John Legend’s All of Me is bogged down by a generic band arrangement hardly better than karaoke. The normally devastating Somewhere (from ‘West Side Story’) not only suffers the previously mentioned fault, but also having the elegant subtlety of its choruses snuffed out by overly stacked harmonies.
Over the Rainbow (which subverts the original by starting with the verses) features bombastic, unnecessary timpani that are a poor excuse for an emotional climax on ‘somewherrrrrrrre’. It is only on the understated closer With You (from ‘Ghost: The Musical’) where Collabro shines and the musical arrangement fades gently into the background.
Designed to make girls and other musical lovers weep, Stars shows some promise in Collabro. It ultimately proves that less truly is more, as less musical backing and rhythmic precision should give way to more emotion, soul and spirit.