How you feel about the Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” likely will match how you feel about the Mavericks’ comeback album.
As the only cover tune on the twelve-song collection, the romantic ballad gets a faithful update that, if anything, is even grander and more dramatic than the lush original. It’s a stunning recording, showing off the operatic range and theatrical expressiveness of Raul Malo’s voice and the band’s devotion to selling whatever mood it wants to convey.
However, embracing its beauty requires listeners to drop their guard and indulge in an over-the-top statement that’s as much about the emotive qualities of orchestrated pop as it is about the power of obsessive love. It is not for the jaded — or, then again, maybe that’s exactly who it’s for. Because enjoying something this ornate and sentimental means letting go, at least momentarily, of the complexities of love that experience has ground into you.
The remake fits perfectly with the rest of the album, which finds the Mavericks delving wholeheartedly into grandiose pop in ways they only touched upon in the past. This disc does not begin where the band left off when they went on hiatus in 1999; they’ve ditched the irony and detached coolness of their mid-’90s releases Music For All Occasions and What A Crying Shame, and they’re better off for it. They’ve also downplayed the joyous, celebratory feel of their best album, 1998’s Trampoline, a charming characteristic that, while not exactly absent, is in short supply here.
But the band no longer aims for country radio airplay, nor is this a party album. With help from co-producer Kenny Greenberg, their objective is clear: to make a fully realized, adult-pop album aspiring to the ambitious majesty that marked the best work of Glen Campbell, Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, and Elvis Presley in his Chips Moman period.
Malo and his colleagues — new guitarist Eddie Perez and the longtime rhythm section of bassist Robert Reynolds and drummer Paul Deakin — extend for a Spector-like reach on this album. But, face it, this kind of thing was never hip; there’s a reason Diamond, Campbell and Warwick aren’t shoe-ins for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though each made more lasting contributions to the pop canon than some inductees. There’s a thin line between good and bad Neil Diamond, for instance. And the only difference between the tasteful elegance of Warwick and the crass shtick of Liza Minnelli is one of knowing restraint.
But the Mavericks aren’t trying to recapture their stature as the hippest band in country music. They’re putting their chips on riskier stakes, and once again, they’ve shown they’ve got the talent and nerve to hit the jackpot.