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'Andrea' doesn't let tenor shine

High economic hopes rest on Andrea Bocelli's sixth pop album, "Andrea"; its predecessor, "Romanza," has sold more than 15 million copies since its release in 1997. Bocelli's pop singing has become as inevitable and indispensable to commercials and TV dramas with Italian connections like "The Sopranos" as images of the Coliseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa are to posters in pizza parlors. Without the success of his pop albums, it is doubtful Bocelli would have been able to record complete operas or pursue his career in operatic arena concerts or even in staged operatic productions.

Bocelli knows he needs to capitalize on his previous successes; this new album has a few popera ballads of the kind he's famous for ("Liberta"); all the songs in Italian profit from the expressive clarity of his diction. But he is also eager to spread his wings. One track features him singing in Spanish and attempting to re-create the sound, style, and flourishes of a flamenco singer ("Sin Tu Amor"). Two tracks find him singing in accented but intelligible English ("When a Child Is Born" and "Go Where Love Goes"), an admirable attempt, although he sacrificies line and legato to do it. On more than one track he offers duets with himself; the only thing better than Bocelli, his producers must have thought, is two of them.

To these ears, only one of the new songs is memorable: "In-Canto," which is built along the lines of an old Italian song or Neapolitan ballad and is opened up by Bocelli in his usual full-hearted Italian style. One of them, "Per Noi," is built on an up-and-down scale and sounds like a vocal exercise. All are hideously overarranged, and most rely on the stale trick of steady upward modulation to bring the tenor to the roof of his voice.

Bocelli begins almost every number in a vibrant croon, sometimes adding a bit of gargle to it to suggest a bedroom voice -- it's meant to sound sexy but actually sounds pretty scratchy. Most end in the stratosphere; Bocelli pulls back from the high notes rather than raising the roof. Or he lets the engineer do it for him, presumably for fear of sounding overblown and operatic; instead he sounds narrow, pinched, and unattractive. It's not until the last note of "Tu ci sei," that we hear the round, poised, seductive timbre of the voice that conquered the world.

The producers of "Andrea" have too often paradoxically chosen to deny Bocelli's public what it pays good money to hear: the tender, romantic quality of the tenor's full voice.

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