It was Michael Bolton's ambition to create something lovely to share with the world when he started penning songs for Spark of Light during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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"I believed it was my duty to give people hope for the future. In that way, music is quite potent, he claims. "We're all so humanly connected; we're in such desperate need of some light," he claims. "That became the overarching working theme every day: 'How do we make [the music] make other people feel better?'"
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The album, which was released today (July 14), features some of Bolton's most uplifting songs, with the tenor's instantly recognizable muscular vocals set against modern production, including the upbeat title track, current single, the inspirational "Beautiful World" (featuring Justin Jesso), finger-snapping "Just the Beginning," and wistful "We Could Be Something."
Bolton found himself entirely rejuvenated as he worked on his first album of original songs in 14 years, his first since 2009's One World One Love, in honor of his 50th year of recording music. Not that Bolton has been idle: he has recorded five albums in the interim, including an homage to Motown tunes, a compilation of duets, and an orchestral rendition of his biggest hits.
The fact that the multiple Grammy winner worked with a fresh group of artists who he found really motivating is one of the reasons Spark of Light, which was released on Bolton's own Montaigne Records, has such a wonderful energy. In the end, he worked with more writers than he had ever worked with on a project, including Zachary Barnett of American Authors, Nicholas Petricca of Walk the Moon, Tushar Apte of BTS and Blackpink, Jesso of Kygo, and top Nashville songwriters Anderson East and Aaron Raitiere.
The facilitator was Christina Kline, his manager. "Christina would approach me and offer me sessions with four or five people the next week. This person writes this kind of music, he's a terrific musician, and this person is a great singer," recalls Bolton. And it developed into a fun way to spread the word about this remarkable bunch of people. Writing sessions started over Zoom but switched to in-person meetings once the world was once again open.
This is Bolton's first album in his six-decade career in which he had a hand in writing every song, which is remarkable for an artist who started as a songwriter and is known for co-writing songs that became huge hits for others, such as Laura Branigan ("How Am I Supposed to Live Without You"), Cher ("I Found Someone"), and Kiss ("Forever").
He emphasizes that wasn't a deliberate action. "We didn't have that concept from the beginning," he claims. "That wasn't my objective. Maybe it's because I've come to realize that it's more crucial to choose that song than to ensure that the album has only original songs, whether Diane [Warren] or an unknown performer brings a wonderful notion to the table and my vocal range is ideal.
Bolton, who turned 70 in March, said that when he takes the stage, he feels as though he has been given new life. "It's kind of new waters," he remarks. "I discovered myself reflecting on significant, impactful, and educational moments." That reflection was influenced in part by an old friend: He watched a documentary on Luciano Pavarotti while creating the songs for this album during the pandemic and was instantly transported back to 1995, when he first sang "Nessun Dorma" alongside the opera legend, and when he had started researching all the great tenors. "This documentary brought me to the pure love of music, and I was just filled with what felt like fresh hunger, deep hunger, creatively," he claims.
Bolton has an impressive songwriting resume and eight No. 1 singles on the Adult Contemporary Billboard charts, including "Time, Love and Tenderness," "When I'm Back on My Feet Again," and "Said I Loved You...But I Lied." However, unlike many of his contemporaries, Bolton has resisted selling his songs for astronomical sums. He says, "I've been approached by a few people." It's something I never imagined I would think about, but I wonder if the right deal came up, would I think about it. I have no idea even what the ballpark is.
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More than ten years ago, Bolton's career achieved a new high when he teamed up with the comic group The Lonely Island for a Saturday Night Live digital short based on the 2011 film "Jack Sparrow." It presented Bolton in a unique, amusing light. "I think I surprised a lot of people who had thought I would never act in such a way. It's too irrational, he complains. "I adore the guys from the Lonely Island and what they did for Saturday Night Live. They patiently worked with me to produce something that was branded with their logo yet wouldn't offend my audience. It was a little unsettling since I knew I was stepping over certain boundaries, but as long as it's humorous and musical, I'm willing to examine it further. Since then, the film has received about 250 million views on YouTube.
When he realized that his fans wanted to see that side of Bolton, he embraced it and jumped into projects like Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special, a 2017 Netflix special; co-hosting The Celebrity Dating Game in 2021; and most recently, this year, as The Wolf, on The Masked Singer. I loved being on the show, despite a "little technical problem" with the wolf costume, he claims. The masks and outfits are just fantastic.
A holiday album and a scripted podcast (Michael Bolton's Big Sexy Podcast), in which he collaborates with Akiva Schaffer of The Lonely Island, are up next for Bolton. The writers' and SAG-AFTRA strike has delayed the launch date.
Bolton performs live throughout the remainder of the year, but he is picky about the venues where he and his bandmates, many of whom have been with him for 20 years or more, perform. With travel, "I just try to make sure that I'm not running myself down because it does sneak up on you," he says.
And he'll be promoting Spark of Light going forward. "I can't wait to dive into and introduce [the songs] live. They're really taking off in Europe," he claims. "The good news is that I'm so pleased with so much of the record that it's fantastic to appreciate the body of work when doing the promotion - which can actually get extremely demanding. You better adore it if you're willing to devote four months of your time to spreading the word about it.