Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Seth MacFarlane is an animator/voice actor/writer/comedian/director/actor/producer. Anyone familiar with his animated TV show Family Guy will probably also know that he is a singer. Family Guy’s regular Road to… episodes (themselves an homage to the Crosby/Hope movies) often feature Brian the dog and Stewie the baby (both voiced by MacFarlane) singing. In fact, a large proportion of the episodes over the current 16 seasons feature characters bursting into song – often in the style of a bygone era. MacFarlane is an unashamed fan of The Great American Songbook with a special affection for Swing.
MacFarlane’s swing career can be traced back to the 2005 album Family Guy: Live in Vegas which featured the characters in a faux-live Rat Pack style lounge setting singing mainly new songs in the style of Sinatra, Martin et al. However the album also featured amongst the fart jokes and obsenities MacFarlane (as Brian – the voice he provides that is closest to his own) singing relatively straight versions of The Last Time I Saw Paris by Kern and Hammerstein, and Slightly Out of Tune by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It was clear at this point that this guy could sing and swing, and In Full Swing is his fourth album of straight interpretations of classic swing numbers.
On the whole, this is album is very good. MacFarlane’s voice is a rich baritone that warmly washes over the listener and Joel McNeely’s orchestrations are absolutely stunning. Together they create a sound that could easily have been produced at the height of the classic era.
MacFarlane’s song choices are as diverse as they can be while still sticking within the genre. The opening number is The First Time It Happens which is surprisingly beautiful when you consider it was originally written for Kermit and Miss Piggy to sing in The Great Muppet Caper. This first song choice immediately shows that MacFarlane is not going to stick with the tried and tested, although he does pepper in some familiar tunes including Lerner & Lowe’s Almost Like Being in Love, Irving Berlin’s Isn’t It a Lovely Day (To Be Caught in the Rain)? and Moonlight Becomes You written for Bing Crosby for The Road to Morocco.
The main problem here is the baggage that MacFarlane brings with him. As he is predominantly known for comedy, it is surprising just how seriously he performs these songs. Silly voices and cartoon sound effects would not be welcomed, but perhaps a slightly lighter approach to the material would improve it. These songs still can be and should be fun, but for many of them, MacFarlane’s interpretation remains almost reverential. Although he has a passion for the music, it’s hard to imagine that he was smiling while recording these songs – and that comes across in the recording. There is definitely a certain twinkle lacking in much of the running time.
However, when that twinkle appears, the CD shines. Jaunty highlights include You Couldn’t Be Cuter (Kern & Fields), Have You Met Miss Jones? (Rodgers & Hart) and My Buick, My Love and I in which MacFarlane duets with Elizabeth Gillies. In fact, the other duet here (If I Had a Talking Picture of You with Norah Jones) is equally good, suggesting that MacFarlane should take a leaf out of the book of Sinatra and Streisand and comprise his fifth album entirely of duets. Having someone to bounce off certainly brings out the best in him.