WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- "Ga-JENK-jenk-ga-JENK-jenk-ga-JENK," Michael Buble sang, strumming an imaginary guitar with his right hand as his left foot kept time on an imaginary kick drum. "Ba-BA-da-BOOM!"
Seated -- just barely -- at a dining table in a West Hollywood hotel suite, the throwback crooner was excitedly using his body to demonstrate a vintage Quincy Jones groove he said he couldn't get out of his head while he was recording his new album, "Love."
In the studio Buble would play the hard-swinging rhythm, from Jones' arrangement of the standard "Please Be Kind," over and over on his laptop; he'd badger his producer, David Foster, to help him match the groove to another tune.
"We must have gone through 40 different songs," Buble recalled, until finally they hit upon the right one: "I Only Have Eyes for You," the dreamy romantic ballad that, sure enough, sounds great atop Jones' jumping beat -- tender but sexy, earnest yet witty, timeless but also fresh in a way that ditty hasn't felt in years.
"I was, like, 'Aha!'" he said, describing the result as a long-fought creative victory. Then again, he added, the real win might've been that he was fighting at all.
Two years ago, this Canadian singer -- who rose to fame in the early 2000s with his ring-a-ding revival of pop classics such as "Feeling Good" and "Save the Last Dance for Me" -- abruptly put his career on hold after his son Noah, then just 3, was diagnosed with liver cancer.
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Buble abandoned promotion of a record he'd just released; he called off a planned world tour. The suggestion was that he might be finished with music, unable to focus on anything that didn't directly correspond to his son's wellness.
Now Buble is back. With Noah in remission, the 43-year-old singer says he made "Love" -- the album's official title is the shiny red heart emoji -- as a means of moving beyond the struggle that turned his life upside down.
"I told myself, if I do another record, it has to be a total love fest," he said over coffee on a recent afternoon. He walked in wearing a black leather jacket, and when he took it off, the names of his three children -- Noah along with 2-year-old Elias and a daughter, Vida, born in July -- could be seen tattooed on the inside of his right arm. (Buble is married to the Argentinean actress Luisana Lopilato.)
Yet as much as "Love" represents a way forward, it's also a return, after 2016's unconvincing "Nobody but Me," to what Buble does best, which is re-imagining durable standards with style and emotion.