Bublé on Love, triumph in wake of son’s cancer
Singer channels vintage Quincy Jones in album
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. —“Ga-JENK-jenk-ga-JENK-jenk-ga-JENK,” Michael Bublé sang, strumming an imaginary guitar with his right hand as his left foot kept time on an imaginary kick drum. “Ba-BA-da-BOOM!”
Seated — just barely — at a dining table in a hotel suite, the throwback crooner was excitedly using his body to demonstrate a vintage Quincy Jones groove he said he couldn’t get out of his head while he was recording his new album, Love.
In the studio Bublé would play the hard-swinging rhythm, from Jones’ arrangement of the standard “Please Be Kind,” over and over on his laptop; he’d badger his producer and fellow Canadian, David Foster, to help him match the groove to another tune.
“We must have gone through 40 different songs,” Bublé recalled, until finally they hit upon the right one: “I Only Have Eyes for You,” the dreamy romantic ballad that, sure enough, sounds great atop Jones’ jumping beat — tender but sexy, earnest yet witty, timeless but also fresh in a way that ditty hasn’t felt in years.
“I was, like, ‘Aha!’ ” he said, describing the result as a longfought creative victory. Then again, he added, the real win might’ve been that he was fighting at all.
Two years ago, the singer — who rose to fame in the early 2000s with his ring-a-ding revival of pop classics such as “Feeling Good” and “Save the Last Dance for Me” — abruptly put his career on hold after his son Noah, then just 3, was diagnosed with liver cancer.
Bublé abandoned promotion of a record he’d just released; he called off a planned world tour. The suggestion was that he might be finished with music, unable to focus on anything that didn’t directly correspond to his son’s wellness.
Now he’s back. With Noah in remission, the 43-year-old singer says he made Love — the album’s official title is the shiny red heart emoji — as a means of moving beyond the struggle that turned his life upside down.
“I told myself, if I do another record, it has to be a total love fest,” he said over coffee on a recent afternoon. He walked in wearing a black leather jacket, and when he took it off, the names of his three children — Noah along with 2-year-old Elias and a daughter, Vida, born in July — could be seen tattooed on the inside of his right arm. (Bublé is married to the Argentinean actress Luisana Lopilato.)
Yet as much as Love represents a way forward, it’s also a return, after 2016’s unconvinc- ing Nobody But Me, to what Bublé does best, which is re-imagining durable standards with style and emotion. Working again with Foster, who’d produced Bublé’s first several albums before sitting out his last few, the singer gives “When I Fall in Love” a lush romantic throb and presents “La Vie en Rose” as a yearning duet with the brainy jazz star Cecile McLorin Salvant.
Last week the album entered Billboard’s U.S. album chart at No. 2, with Bublé’s quadrupleplatinum Christmas record from 2011 making its annual reappearance on the tally not far behind.
Asked how the experience with Noah shaped the album, Bublé said it made him want to create something with some of the same compassion that he and his wife had been shown.
“It’s really easy right now to look outside your bubble and think that the world has become this cynical, terrible place,” he said. “But we saw a lot of good. And I think both of us felt a responsibility to pay it forward.”
He was less eager to go into detail about the pain that brought on that kindness.
“My son’s story is a story he’s going to tell one day,” he said. “It’s not for me. And I don’t want him to be exploited in any way, or for me to do that even accidentally.”
“My son’s story is a story he’s going to tell one day.” MICHAEL BUBLÉ SINGER
For his new album, Love, Michael Bublé reunited with a fellow Canadian, producer David Foster. The album entered the Billboard U.S. chart last week at No. 2.