The intro to "I Saw The Light" threatens to undermine the entire concept, because the percussion and guitar sound cliche-Brazilian. Todd's voice begins, offering the familiar lyrics in an unfamiliar cadence. Then enter the strings, reinforcing the near-Muzak qualities of the arrangement. Yet, somehow, by song's end it all comes together and sounds refreshing. When "Influenza" follows, with its sensuous guitar and light snare touches, we enter the rain forest with Todd and his players. "Can We Still Be Friends" and "Mated" continue to lead us through the jungle path. One line from "Mated" seems directed to the audience - "Nobody else understands what I'm doing" - is Todd hoping his "great nation of fans" does? The uptempo arrangement of "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" is jolting, when compared to the S/A original or subsequent covers. The dreamy arrangement of "Love Is The Answer" is perfect - less tinny-sounding than the Utopia version, with Todd's best singing on the CD, and more plaintive in its message than I recall. "Fidelity" is the biggest sound-alike to its original, from "Nearly Human". "Never Neverland" is a song which must have great meaning for Todd, since he now covers it for the second time in his career - has he found his "Neverland" in Hawaii? In "Hello, It's Me" he offers his jokiest arrangement on the CD, throwing in a dash of the "Xtreme Games" theme he recorded for ESPN earlier this year. But he re-establishes his groove on "I Want You", offering another soothing blend of lush vocals and percussive emphasis. (And is there an inside joke here? Although the song is a Marvin Gaye original, it is well-known through Robert Palmer's cover, and Palmer covered "Can We Still Be Friends".) The quiet and introspective arrangement of "A Dream Goes On Forever" highlights the song's truly beautiful melody and one of Todd's best lyrics ever.
The instrumentation throughout "with a twist..." is quite fine, particularly Prairie Prince's percussion (say that three times fast) - he captures well the rhythms and subtleties of the bossa nova beat. Jesse, John, and Kasim (good to see him back!) also successfully immerse themselves in this Brazilian approach. Todd's voice seems to fluctuate - sounding strong and tuneful at times and a bit strained at others (especially on "A Dream Goes On Forever"). His vibrato seems to get away from him occasionally. His vocal on "Hello, It's Me" is the most disappointing from my standpoint; the original has one of his best deliveries, with every syllable clearly enunciated - I take for gran-ted that you're always there", as opposed to this CD's version - "I take for granite that 'cher always there"; dissipating much of the song's charm.
But, ultimately - I am a fan, and not a critic, and so believe that Todd IS offering a glimpse into his soul that we fans have not previously been allowed to experience. He treats these songs, his history, with respect but not reverence. He is willing to turn some of our most cherished musical experiences inside out and on their heads, and expects us to pay for the privilege. And I did - and it was.
The only lingering question - what is there to see under the water's surface, Todd?