BWW Album Review: Alfie Boe and Michael Ball Are BACK TOGETHER Again
Pairing Michael Ball and Alfie Boe together for an album of standards seems so intuitive, it's no wonder this is their third album together. Back Together reunites the two stars for an album and a concert tour, covering everything from mid-century standards to contemporary pop-Broadway hybrids. There's little in the way of surprise on this album, but in some ways, that's perfectly fine - Ball and Boe know what works for them (and for us), and they lean into it.
One surprise does actually come at the very start of the album. The first track is "The Greatest Show," the driving opening number of The Greatest Showman. It's a little more modern and pop-y than one might expect from these stars who have made their names with more classic tunes, and Boe's voice in particular is a tad too pure and classical-sounding for the slightly grittier, pop-rock sound. Nevertheless, they pull it off and then some, with all the showmanship and energy of the original and no shortcuts or re-arrangements, giving the album a nice push at the very beginning.
The duo continue with the musical theatre theme for the first section of the album, which is entirely unsurprising and entirely appropriate. Ball and Boe both have a history with British megamusicals in particular, so it's not unexpected to find The Phantom of the Opera's "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" on the track list. The harmonies on this song - as well as on Fiddler on the Roof's "Sunrise, Sunset" - are truly beautiful, with creative touches that elevate them beyond simple covers.
As perfect as some of these choices are, there are other songs on the album that are somewhat baffling. Midway through the album, we're presented with a Queen medley. It sticks to the band's notable ballads ("The Show Must Go On," "Who Wants to Live Forever," and "Friends Will Be Friends"), which is a smart choice for Boe and Ball's voices, but unfortunately, it has the effect of flattening the songs into a fairly ordinary medley. The duo simply lacks the panache one would expect from a Queen medley, and that's related both to the song choice and to their own vocal styles. Similarly, their rendition of "Circle of Life" from The Lion King isn't necessarily a bad choice, just a strange one, and perhaps not the strongest option to showcase them.
A large portion of the album is devoted to pivoting away from just musical theatre standards into just plain old standards. Ball and Boe embrace their inner Sinatras with a pair of lounge standards: "My Way" and "Come Fly with Me." There's a smooth, easy elegance to these tracks that suits the pair perfectly. It's a smart choice to embrace this side of their performance, and while this is, musically speaking, well-trod ground, it's a perfectly pleasant experience to listen to Boe and Ball's versions.
Unfortunately, the latter half of the album leans a little too heavily on these easy-listening sorts of songs. There are several songs that almost blend together: all vaguely uplifting, all a little bit earnest, all somewhat mellow. There are high points - lovely falsetto moments in "I Will Always Believe," a great use of a choral backing in "Something Inside So Strong" - but the ultimate effect is a bit dampening, rather than energizing. The excellent rise and flow of the first half of the album is chilled a little by the end, which is a pity. Even with these minor missteps, Back Together is mostly an enjoyable experience by two very distinctive, very talented singers of today.