Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Paul Anka? Rock Swings?

Ok, first off - this is not a jazz record, and Paul Anka is not a jazz singer. It's pop, so keep that in mind. It's one of the oddest records I've come across in a long time though. Here's the deal, former teen idol, wanna be rat packer, composer and of course singer Paul Anka records an album on Verve Records, full of big band (and a lot of "with strings") arrangements of songs by Van Halen, Nirvana, Bon Jovi, Oasis, Soundgarden, etc. This musical oddball wound up in the mail bin today. I saw the mailer had the Verve Records logo on it, and for a second I thought it might be the new Wayne Shorter record, but alas, it was Paul Anka!

I do have to admit the arrangements, especially the big band numbers are top flight. No solos, but like I said it's not a jazz record. The arrangers are top flight, including Patrick Williams, and John Clayton, (who I admire greatly and think is one of the finest arrangers and bandleaders in the business). They do a great job translating these songs into a big band idiom, arrangements which would make Billy May proud. It was recorded at the old Capitol Records Studio A, so it has that vintage sound, with great fidelity thanks to Al Schmitt. Anka is also in good voice, he's good at what he does, and is much better than the young neo-crooners such as Cincotti and Buble.

There is one problem though. It's creepy! Hearing a man in his 60's sing lyrics written by 90's teenagers for 90's teenagers, it just doesn't work. The classy arrangements also serve to expose some weak lyrics. I've heard Kurt Cobain's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hundreds of times like anyone of my generation. I never fully realized how horrible the lyrics were until this recording. Misquito, Libido... I feel stupid, contagious... If they worked being sung by Cobain, they most certainly don't work being sung by Anka. He sings it well, there's just no possible way a man his age, and with his kind of voice, and in this setting. There is one redeeming thing about the song, John Clayton's excellent arrangement. Forget the banal lyrics, and Clayton's brass heavy big band shuffle with bluesy overtones, swings as hard as anything. Maybe he'll refashion it into a more extended big band arrangement for the high school set, a la Gordon Goodwin.

One track does work rather well, Bon Jovi's "It's My Life", the arrangement swings, the lyrics are more adult, and in keeping with the musical setting, etc. It also has a touch of irony where Bon Jovi's lyric goes "as Frank said it, I did it my way." That's of course a reference to Frank Sinatra's famous recording of "My Way", and guess who wrote it? Yes, Paul Anka. The second time through the lyric, Anka on this new recording goes, "Frank said he did it my way!" His way indeed, for better or worse, and there's a lot of both on this record.


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