Robert Downey Jr.

  • Robert Downey Jr.
  • The Futurist (Sony Classical) 2004 

In Hollywood terms, actor Robert Downey Jr.’s The Futurist is no Chaplin. In fact, it’s not much better than The Pick-Up Artist. The troubled thespian has been recording music for years, including pieces for the previously mentioned films and for the television show Ally McBeal. He’s a capable musician, playing piano, keyboards and percussion on this album, and his scratchy singing voice is likable in an adult-contemporary kind of way. Respectable players give him a hand, including pop composers Jonathan Elias and Mark Hudson, bassists Reggie Hamilton and Charlie Haden, and Yes’ own Jon Anderson, who lends his vocals to a cover of his own group’s “Your Move.” The disc starts strong enough, with “Man Like Me” starring Downey as a young Tom Waits or a middle-aged Bob Seger backed by sparse piano, organ and cello. The song’s lyrics also allude to a profound persona that might be worth a listen: “I spit gravel / As I back out of the back door / And the twenties roll around in my hand.” But the rest of the album is pacifying jazz-folk for a moonlit night at the villa with Downey coming off like Marc “Walking in Memphis” Cohn with a slight twang (or, even worse, Michael Bolton with some downtime). Meanwhile, imperceptible poetry and 12-step recitations dominate the lyrical content. Nothing sticks, nothing stays. The Bruce Hornsby-like stateliness of “Little Clownz” is about as good as it gets, but when the remake of a Yes song still has more personality and memorable moments that any of the originals, something’s not quite right. And, while this may be unfair criticism due solely to Downey’s day job, the suspicion that he’s acting the songs rather than singing them adds a layer of artifice not usually encountered in records that sound this plain.

[Floyd Eberhard]