Donny Osmond

This Is the Moment

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Donny Osmond has a tendency to take decades off from his recording career. He let most of the 1980s go by, presumably to clear the air after his teen idol days of the 1970s, before re-launching himself as a dance-pop singer with his self-titled Capitol album in 1989, then took off most of the '90s after the relative disappointment of its follow-up, Eyes Don't Lie. In the meantime, he gained a measure of legitimacy as a musical theater performer with a long-running portrayal of the title character in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. By the end of the decade, with the cancellation of the syndicated talk show he shared with his sister Marie, Osmond was again available to take another chance in the record stores. And so, here is This Is the Moment, the concept of which is to take show tunes of various vintages and given them contemporary pop arrangements. Of course, that's what pop artists used to do all the time with show music, until it fell out of favor at the end of the 1960s. Osmond and veteran producer Phil Ramone may not be trying to resurrect that tradition so much as they are trying to craft a new, more respectable image for Osmond as an adult contemporary performer. Hence, in one of the more radical restatements of a song, arranger/conductor Rob Mounsey provides a setting for the 50-year-old "Luck Be a Lady" from Guys & Dolls that sounds like nothing so much as a track from a 1970s Steely Dan album, complete with funky rhythms and a punchy horn chart. That sort of thing can backfire, of course (it makes you think about what Osmond was singing when "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" was a hit), but for the most part, Osmond and Ramone select show songs from recent years that already have a pop element to them, such as "Seasons of Love" from Rent and "This Is the Moment" from Jekyll & Hyde, so they are halfway to their goal already. Osmond clearly has learned a lot about singing from his stage work, but he still employs a pop singer's sense of feel over a stage singer's desire to convey meaning. Oddly, the staginess of his approach derives more from his pop background than his theater work; he never for a second sounds like he's really feeling anything. This artificiality is accentuated by the timbre of his light, flexible tenor. Decca Broadway seems to have chosen "Seasons of Love" as the album's emphasis track and is probably holding the duet with Vanessa Williams on Sweeney Todd's "Not While I'm Around" in reserve, but those aren't really the likeliest candidates to break this album. Osmond just doesn't nail the former, and the latter was a bad casting idea -- Osmond and Williams' voices are too similar. Rather, the real chances for hits are Whistle Down the Wind's "No Matter What" (which scored for Boyzone in the U.K., though they flopped with it in the U.S.) and Saturday Night Fever's "Immortality." These are highly melodic, lightly rhythmic ballads perfectly suited to Osmond's voice and approach. This Is the Moment is both the best Donny Osmond album ever made and conclusive evidence that the former teen idol, who was 43 when it was released, is never going to be more than a pleasant, modestly talented singer.

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