Michael Bublé liked all the songs he picked out for his latest album, “Crazy Love.”
He just “wasn’t looking forward to singing them.”
Blame it on heartbreak. The Canadian vocalist, who’s become a worldwide star by interpreting the Great American Songbook and mixing in a few pop and rock favorites in that style, went through “a pretty rotten time” prior to recording “Crazy Love,” breaking up with his girlfriend, British actress Emily Blunt, for whom he’d written the 2007 hit “Everything.” His song selection for “Crazy Love” reflected his state of mind — from the opening “Cry Me a River” to the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight” — but Bublé was concerned about being able to “sell” the performances and adequately convey the emotions he was going through.
“There was a lot of introspection and sadness and regret, and at the same time, hope,” explains Bublé, 34, who’s currently engaged to Argentine actress Luisana Lopilato. “I had chosen these songs because I knew that, especially in the moment, I could really mean what I sang.
“It wasn’t the most fun thing in the world. It was therapeutic, but it wasn’t exactly a feel-good thing. But in a weird way, it was exciting for me to be that vulnerable and — for the first time, really, be that honest.”
It apparently worked. “Crazy Love” spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and Jazz charts after its October release and also hit the top spot in Canada, Italy and Australia, where it was quickly certified double-platinum. It’s since been certified platinum in the U.S., and he’s nominated for five Juno Awards, Canada’s Grammy equivalent, including Artist of the Year.
“My mother called me and said, ‘Are you surprised?’ and I actually said, ‘No,’ ” Bublé recalls with a laugh. “I thought it was a great record. I set these goals for myself and naively hope I’ll reach them. I truly feel like it’s the most, I guess, authentic record I’ve made so far.”
Of course, Bublé’s entire singing career has been built from naive hopes and working outside the lines.
Growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, he was introduced as a child to the standards by his grandfather, who recognized Bublé’s vocal acumen early and taught him about Sammy Cahn and Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin while Bublé also soaked up more “regular kid” sounds from Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and the Beastie Boys. Grandpa, a plumber, would take Bublé to clubs bartering free work for the musicians in exchange for letting the underage youth sit in with their bands.
As a teen, Bublé made his mark with some first-place finishes with the Canadian Youth Talent Search, toured in North American road companies of productions such as “Red Rock Diner” and “Swing,” and wound up singing at the wedding of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s daughter, where Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster heard Bublé and signed him to his 143 Records label. The “Michael Bublé” album went double-platinum in 2003, while “It’s Time” (2005) and “Call Me Irresponsible” (2007), like “Crazy Love,” each debuted at No. 1.
Bublé has also won six Canadian Juno awards and one Grammy. Despite the success, however, he wanted to expand his creative reach beyond what he felt he’d achieved on those albums.
“I wanted to record a record with presence,” Bublé explains. “I kept listening to my previous work ... and I’m not putting them down. I’m really proud of those records, and obviously 22 million people bought them and they made people feel something. That’s really important not to forget.
“But at the same time, with that commercial success I felt that I had a responsibility to be more honest to myself and to the fans. I didn’t want the record to sound good; I wanted it to feel good.”
Modeling “Crazy Love” after his favorite albums by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Motown — “They feel like I’m in the room with them,” he notes — Bublé worked with Foster and the album’s other producers (Bob Rock, Humberto Garcia and Alan Chang) to find that “feel” he wanted. “As much as I could, I tried to go live off the floor and not use the machines. I tried to keep it real simple,” explained Bublé, who co-produced the version of “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You” and also co-wrote the album’s first two singles, “Haven’t Met You Yet” and “Hold.”
“There’s certainly things I love about modern technology,” he adds. “There’s certain things I dig totally about getting to tune up your voice. But you trade something — you trade soul for perfection. And if you’re gonna ask me what’s worth more to me, I guess I’m gonna have to answer soul.”
Nowhere was that more fully realized than “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes),” which Bublé recorded in New York with the formidable soul ensemble Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, a session that he acknowledges made him “a little bit nervous ’cause I’d never recorded like that before.” But his nerves were settled when he heard the first rhythm tracks and stepped into the studio to record the vocal.
“It was amazing, man. The drums just sounded incredibly warm. It sounded like the records I used to listen to.”
Bublé also took the risk of “polarizing” his audience with the rock covers on “Crazy Love” — the Van Morrison title track and “Heartache Tonight.” The latter, in fact, is something Bublé sang in clubs before he signed his recording contract, but he hopes both songs help to tweak the image that’s built around him over the course of his first three albums.
“There’s this image of me as a soft kind of mama’s boy guy — who I’m not at all,” Bublé explains. “But look at the songs. It’s ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder.’ It’s ‘You’ll Never Find,’ Lou Rawls. It’s ‘How Do You Mend a Broken Heart’ by the Bee Gees.
“There’s definitely an image being sold and an audience being reached out to. So for me, for (‘Crazy Love’), it was awesome to do different stuff and do ‘Baby (You Got What It Takes)’ with Sharon and the Dap-Kings and work with my friends, like Ron Sexsmith and to have more poppy songs. It’s a lot more fun for me.”
Bublé is also having a little more fun on stage, where he’s taking his tour to arenas and sculpted a stage show with production designers from the late Michael Jackson’s planned “This Is It” shows in London.
“I’m going to have a huge production, yeah,” Bublé said, “but I do not want to rely on lasers or pyrotechnics or a set to make my show entertaining. I think a good entertainer should be able to have a stool and a microphone and a glass of water and you should be able to entertain people. I think all the production should be a bonus.
“What I want to create is intimacy. You’re playing an arena and it can be so cavernous and cold; I want to make it really intimate. That’s the most important thing.”
Michael Buble and Naturally7 perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 25, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $88, $68 and $48. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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