Michael Bublé Releases 2nd CD
DEBBIE TIMUSS, who's known Michael Bublé for eight years, since they were hoofin' and singing in a rock 'n' roll revival show at Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre, is still adjusting to the wild arc of her boyfriend's career. There were times during the past two years of his relentless world tour when he couldn't step outside or go to the bathroom without a security escort to keep female fans at bay. What's a crooner without swooning women? "What!" she says to him when he tells these stories. "You?" She's sitting on the couch, in the Burnaby home of Bublé's grandparents, where the music really began. She sweeps dark tresses from a strikingly beautiful face. It's not always easy, she concedes. "I have my moments. I think the lucky thing is we've known each other for so long. He's good. He makes an effort to make sure I know it's all good."
That effort includes It's Time (Reprise/143 Records), to be released on Feb. 8, in time for Valentine's Day; Bublé calls it "Debbie's record." It's the follow-up to his debut CD, Michael Bublé, a collection of standards that's sold an impressive three million copies and made him a hot international property. The endless touring also, for a time, broke up his relationship with Timuss. It's Time is about putting things right. The CD is intensely personal and more unfettered than the tightly controlled, super-slick stylings of his first CD. Two of its most affecting songs - the Leon Russell classic Song For You, and Home, an aching, lonely lament co-written by Bublé - are like eavesdropping on intimate conversations. "A few of those songs, I just stuck her outside the studio," he says of Timuss, "and I sang to her."
The standards ring true to 29-year-old Bublé; they aren't a shtick or a passing fad. The fact that his records are selling, that Rod Stewart is singing the American songbook, and the music of Bobby Darin, Ray Charles and Cole Porter are all featured in recent film biographies, is a hunger for quality, in his view, not a flirtation with nostalgia. Most musicians his age make a virtue of edginess and risk; Bublé talks about the comfort he found as a boy in his grandfather's old records - songs with stories and clever lyrics and sweet melodies. "I think people feel like the world is going to shit," he says. "That doesn't sound like a really eloquent way of saying it, but you turn on the news, it's scary. I think people really feel the need to escape that."
Following Bublé around his hometown haunts as he preps for his album release is like chasing lightning: conversations that begin in a Vancouver hotel room continue around a table groaning with food at his grandparents' and, finally, in Vancouver's historic Gastown, where he mows through a tuna fish sandwich in Bryan ADAMS's recording studio. The building is a lovely mix of high technology, ancient beams and exposed brick. Adams (who shares manager Bruce Allen with Bublé) took the skin of an old warehouse and filled it with new purpose. Bublé approaches old songs the same way. A piece written by Gershwin in the 1920s is relevant now, or 200 years from now, he says. "He's talking about love. He's talking about romance or hope. He's talking about hurt, about heartbreak."
Play back a quote like that and Bublé sounds like a young fogey. Not many who've seen his electric stage presence would agree. "Michael Bublé has 'superstar' stamped right through him," purred London's Sunday Times. "He croons like Sinatra and drives women wild." "Sings and swings as a sexy modern version of Frank, Dino and Sammy," gushes Liz Smith, the grande dame of American gossip. Not bad for a guy who, three years ago, was a no-name kid, singing standards so dead they'd be laughed out of pop music heaven.
His first CD was released in 2003 without benefit of a music video or an obvious radio hit. It climbed the charts in at least 15 countries - he's toured most of them - from the Philippines to South Africa, the U.K. to the U.S. It's gone double platinum in Italy, home of his ancestors, triple platinum in Canada, and quintuple in Australia. It's Time comes with three music videos, and far more attention. Even Ian "Molly" Meldrum - Australian television's premier pop guru - has flown halfway around the world for an interview. Meldrum, reeking from a chest full of Vicks VapoRub applied against the relentless Vancouver rain, is also filming a special to coincide with its release.
Bublé reels off his international touring schedule. "If you can imagine, I never left North America until a few years ago - these are places I saw in movies," he tells Meldrum. "It blows my mind that you've flown from Australia to my hometown to talk to me," he says, looking way less worldly than his smokin' stage persona. They're just back from the docks in nearby Richmond to film aboard Winning Edge, the gillnetter belonging to the singer's father, Lewis. Bublé worked long summer shifts on dad's salmon boat, jamming by himself in the wheelhouse, belting out Darin, Sinatra, some Harry Connick, Jr.
Young people are claiming the standards as their own, Meldrum says later. "He's opened up a whole new young audience to those songs." It helps, too, Meldrum adds, that Bublé's great set of pipes is backed by some exceptional friends. By now, most Canadian fans know the story: Bublé, after 10 years of scraping by in lounges and music reviews, sings at the wedding of Brian Mulroney's daughter, Caroline. Mulroney, the old rainmaker, introduces him to wedding guest David Foster, the Victoria-born, Los Angeles-based mega-producer with a nose for commercial success. Foster brings countryman Paul Anka on board. Storied Vancouver manager Bruce Allen adds Bublé to his stable. Bada bing, bada bang, bada boom ... he's selling out concerts, moving product, melting female hearts around the globe.
Bublé spreads credit for his career far and wide, but always the story starts at the Burnaby home of his grandparents, Yolanda and Mitch Santaga. Today, Britain's Glamour magazine is shooting Bublé there amid Mitch's vintage albums: the Mills Brothers, Engelbert Humperdinck, Sinatra - and Dean Martin. There was a gentleman, says Mitch, who has zero tolerance for prima donnas. While kids Bublé's age were listening to Michael Jackson or AC/DC, it was grandpa's music that seeped into Bublé's soul.
Mitch is pouring his homemade red from a crystal decanter to a growing cast of characters: reps from Bublé's parent label, Warner Bros. Records Inc., his management team, a photographer, a makeup artist and assorted family members. Michael is carrying around his two-year-old nephew O'Shae like a prize trophy. It's a photo shoot with all the manic energy of a family reunion.
Mitch, 77, and a wee bit hard of hearing, settles on the couch. He's open and friendly, and so close to his grandson it seems they're living the same dream. It was grandpa, a retired plumber, who often drove Bublé to vocal lessons; who'd sometimes throw in a free plumbing job at local nightclubs, if they'd put his grandson on stage.
Bublé phones regularly from wherever he is in the world. They rarely talk about Bublé's career. At the moment, they're a two-person support group going through hockey withdrawal. He accompanied his grandson on part of his 16-city tour of Italy. It was exhilarating and worrying at the same time, he says. "The schedule is just too tough." he says. "He's a hard-working kid. My God, I can't believe how hard." He watches for any of the excess - be it drugs, high living or other rat-pack antics - that often seem the price of admission to singing the music of that era. So far, so good, he says. "I'm bragging again, but this kid hasn't changed from day one."
A few days later, Bublé laughs off Santaga's fears of burnout. "He's one to talk, working too damn hard. You know that house we were in," he asks. "He built that with his bare hands. Listen, I'm not working half has hard as he did, or my father does."
For all that, Bublé concedes there were sleepless nights leading to It's Time. "The second record I knew had to be better than the first. I knew I had to like it more." He's proud of his first collaboration with Foster, but as time went on, he concedes, "I became less and less impressed with myself. More than less impressed, I became disappointed in what I had done. Not that it was terrible, or that I had ripped someone off, I just thought I could have sung this record so much better."
This time, it was Bublé, not Foster, who picked most of the songs, and the stylings. Foster, a perfectionist, built the vocals for Bublé's first CD a word or phrase at a time from multiple takes. This time Bublé wanted to recreate the energy of a live performance. "I'd rather it be flawed than to have it so goddarned perfect, but in a dead way."
Most of all, he wanted to believe what he sang. So the CD opens with a raunchy rendition of Feeling Good, because, damn it, like the song says, the sun's out and birds are flying high. Who knows how long that feeling lasts? He wonders about that sometimes, like when he's partying in the roped-off celebrity section of a hot night club. "God this is a fantasy," he says. "In 10 years from now, in five years even, not only may I not get to sit behind this red rope, they probably won't even let me in the club."
What can last, any crooner has to believe, is love. That's why, on a melancholy day in Italy, he started to write Home. It goes a little like this: Boy loses girl to his lure of the road. Boy comes home, wins girl back. Sure, it's a lot of songs, that story, but this one is theirs. And sometimes now, when Debbie Timuss hears it, she doesn't even cry.
See also POPULAR MUSIC.
Maclean's February 7, 2005