An anesthesiologist and teacher, Rob Alexander’s professional credentials do not indicate he harbors the skills and emotional impact heard in his song “When I’m Gone (for George Michael)”. The fifth single from his debut full length Long Road Coming Home has many of the same sterling attributes defining the preceding four singles but listeners hear Alexander more vulnerable than ever before with this track. He harnesses the full scope of his songwriting acumen to produce a ballad far outstripping more facile efforts in the pop realm and, even after a single listen, many will agree with the similarities he shares with performers like prime Elton John, among others. He aspires to much more than just hitting his marks as a singer and songwriter. Instead, listeners get a sense that his aims are much higher – Alexander wants to write and perform songs capable of standing the test of time.
Each key element of the track steers the song in that direction. The lyrics are crafted with an eye and ear for concision. There are no wasted phrases, no reliance on standard clichés or tropes. Alexander, instead, writes with withering focus about the one thing in this life all of us face once – our death. His first person lyrics place listeners in the mind of someone contemplating their own end and wondering what they will leave behind – what will people say, how will they be remembered, an array of fundamental questions any thinking individual faces within at some point in their lives. He provides no easy answers, but his words are infused with a spirit of forgiveness and reflection that are life affirming rather than mired in despair.
The musical arrangement likewise pushes the song in posterity’s direction.
Alexander has a genuine talent for building cinematic pop landscapes while never pandering to the lowest common denominator. His simplified piano melody is just right for the track and the drumming imbues the recording with the necessary dramatic weight without ever coming off as crude. There is a guitar solo coming after the song’s midway point dripping with emotion rather than needless adornment and a thin sheen of synthesizer color deepens the song’s riches.
His vocal is the crowning touch. Alexander’s phrasing makes the most of the fine lyrical content and, risking cliché, he sings like his life depends on it. He makes a sizable personal investment in this song and there isn’t a single line where listeners will question his commitment. His voice grows more and more powerful as the song progresses, matching the musical intensity each step of the way, and the rugged qualities of his voice communicate the song’s emotional terrain with unsparing passion.
“When I’m Gone” is a thoughtful song, well put together, and the clear result of a songwriter operating near or at the peak of his powers. Long Road Coming Home is the first album Rob Alexander has released, but each second of this fifth single speaks to how music has lived within him for his entire life. We are fortunate he has given public vent to those talents at last.
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