Fans of Family Guy, American Dad, and the Cleveland Show are already aware of the varied vocal talents of creator Seth MacFarlane. What some may not know, however, is how this talent shines in music. Listeners be forewarned: this is not the comical MacFarlane you have come to know and love (or hate) and, as such, you should leave all your preconceived notions at the door.
As evidenced by his shows, MacFarlane is no novice to musical numbers. Family Guy has benefitted from musical guest stars like Peter Frampton, KISS, Frank Sinatra, Jr., John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra and, of course, throwback cameos of Conway Twitty. Furthermore, Family Guy employs an entire live orchestra for every episode, recycling only the theme song (which is updated regularly as well). The show utilizes musical numbers to increase hilarity with numbers like “Prom Night Dumpster Baby” and informing someone of their AIDS diagnosis via a classy barbershop quartet. We’ve heard MacFarlane’s voice via Peter’s nasally take on such satirical numbers as “Shipoopi,” “Cowboy Butt Sex,” and the “Fellas at the Freakin’ FCC” song. But, our first true experiences with MacFarlane’s genuine singing ability are through Brian, shining on silly songs like “Bag of Weed,” “Republicantown,” duets with Stewie on “Road To…” episodes, and -of course-performances with Frank Sinatra, Jr.
It is these episodes where Brian truly depicts MacFarlane’s own desires of big band musicianship. Citing Sinatra as an influence and idol, MacFarlane and his new album Music Is Better Than Words would make the old crooner proud. While some fans of his comedy may feel a bit shorted by this album, I foresee an entirely new group of fans in his future. This is not an album ala the likes of Bo Burnham or Weird Al; this is a genuine, straight-faced big band album that shines of its own accord.
Remaking big band classics and musical numbers from the likes of The Music Man and The Sound of Music, MacFarlane really showcases his range. One of the instant favorites on this album is bound to be the dreamy duet with Norah Jones, “Two Sleepy People.” Similarly, pop fans can enjoy hearing Sara Bareilles in a new light in the duet “Love Won’t Let You Get Away.” The only tip of the hat to his comedy roots lies in the swingy “The Sadder But Wiser Girl,” a suggestive song from The Music Man that depicts a desire for a “more adult romance” with a girl who is neither wholesome nor innocent.
While MacFarlane’s voice has unwavering power and this album is full of great talent, Music Is Better Than Words would have simply fallen by the wayside if it weren’t for such a well-known name backing it. The talent is undeniable and the range is impressive; however, there is just such a small niche for this type of music today that I can’t imagine it would have gained any notoriety without MacFarlane’s fame. That being said, I can also see him gaining a whole new generation of fans with this album.