Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy, Valentine’s Day Special is an hour long Netflix variety special co-produced by the Lonely Island and Comedy Bang! Bang! The premise of the special is that Bolton has to host a Valentine’s Day special in order to get people in the mood to do the deed and make babies because Santa’s elves made a surplus of toys and there need to be 75,000 babies conceived on Valentine’s Day so they can be birthed before Christmas (just roll with it). The special features a hilarious Dueling Banjos joke, a riff on “Cupid Shuffle”, and Bolton unwilling to sing “Nessun Dorma” because it’s always used as the backdrop for assassinations in movies.
Michael Bolton’s Songs of Cinema is the album that big, sexy, Valentine’s Day special is ostensibly promoting. I say ostensibly because really? When you compare the two, the album feels like the afterthought—heck, just look at the album artwork. The special is very tongue in cheek, poking fun at Michael Bolton’s image as the go-to singer for lovemaking music as well his career as a whole. The album has absolutely none of that tongue in cheek nature of the special and, final track aside, is instead just a middle of the road Michael Bolton album.
To start with, the title is misleading. Just one look at the tracklist tells you that some of these songs aren’t Songs of Cinema in the first place. Sure, movies have featured “When A Man Loves A Woman,” “I’ve Got A Woman,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” but they aren’t best known for being in a movie: they’re best known for being a Percy Sledge song, a Ray Charles song, and a Marvin Gaye song. Compare this to an album like Andrea Bocelli’s Cinema, another relatively recent album that also focuses on songs of cinema and features “Maria” from West Side Story, “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago, and “Cheek to Cheek” from Top Hat. Songs of Cinema might as well have been renamed Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special Soundtrack—at least half the album is performed in some way, shape, or form in the special itself. Two of the songs were billed in promotional materials as being from the Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special: “Cupid” and “Jack Sparrow,” a slow ballad version of the Bolton and Lonely Island team-up of the same name.
There we go, I’ve linked the best part of the album.
And for an album that’s supposed to help cross-promote an offbeat Netflix special, Songs of Cinema is fairly conventional. What a shock, Bolton’s doing “As Time Goes Bye” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” And what a shock as well, Bolton’s performing them in a straightforward manner. He croons and warbles and gives a generic Michael Bolton performance, with gospel choirs in the background and boring instrumentation. When you’re doing an album like this, you need to do something so it doesn’t sound like the Michael Bolton backyard karaoke section. Spice up the vocals, pick an unconventional song choice, add in or remove some instruments, do something different and interesting. Bolton plays all of his choices annoyingly straight. The most interesting thing is the version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which weirdly tilts towards a lounge singer aesthetic.
No more is this apparent than his performance of “I Will Always Love You.” The main problem with the song is that he’s teaming up with Dolly Parton and Parton actually puts emotion in this song. She’ll pause and say something, dropping her voice to a whisper at certain points. Bolton just takes the song at the same level he’s giving throughout the album. He’ll sing normally and then he’ll warble some high notes. Parton’ll speak part of the song and Bolton will just croon in the background. Parton NAILS THIS SONG, unsurprising considering she wrote the damn thing, but this still feels like she’s graciously letting Michael Bolton join in with her.
All in all, Songs of Cinema feels utterly half-assed. Bolton can do better. Bolton HAS done better. So I’m entirely confused as to why he hasn’t done better with this entirely predictable and entirely boring album?
Album rating: 5/10
Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy, Valentine’s Day Special rating: 7/10