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Seth MacFarlane Music Is Better Than Words Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

An unexpected but endearing valentine to the 1940s and 50s.

Adrian Edwards 2012

This endearing album from Seth MacFarlane, the creator of TV's Family Guy, is a valentine to the popular culture of the 1940s and 50s.

The choice of It's Anybody's Spring to open will come as no surprise to fans of that show. It was written for one of the Road to… pictures of Crosby, Hope and Lamour, a franchise that was affectionately parodied in Family Guy.

To successfully evoke that era, MacFarlane and his arranger/conductor Joel McNeely not only borrowed the microphone that Sinatra used at Capitol Records, but also recorded this collection in analogue. The results possess a warm, ambient glow where the voice and each section of the orchestra are ideally balanced, presented in a wide stereo spread.

The repertoire is refreshing, veering from the well known to hidden treasures. The arrangements capture each song's mood in a most imaginative way. The Night They Invented Champagne, from Gigi, makes clever use of the song's verse, alludes to the fin de siècle world of Colette's Paris, and ends with a fade before one more pop from the bottle.

MacFarlane is very much his own man when it comes to phrasing and pointing the words in a lyric, and this approach really drives home what each song is about. “You break the spell when you start to speak,” he observes on the title track, “That technique is all wrong.” And on occasion he varies the written tune to heighten its drama, as in his deeply expressive account of It's Easy to Remember.

On the other side of the coin, he relishes the good-natured Nine O'Clock and has dug up some unfamiliar lines to period piece The Sadder but Wiser Girl, from The Music Man. Norah Jones, her delicious voice redolent of crème caramel, is a perfect match for his in Two Sleepy People; and Sara Bareilles excells on the wisecracking Love Won't Let You Get Away, originally written for Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.

In many ways the world inhabited by these songs seems remote from our present pop culture. So it’s good to see them so lovingly presented at the beginning of the 21st century.

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