Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Listen Or Die? #1 - In The Wee Small Hours...

"Just ask Matt, he knows everything about music."

"Oh, you write for a music blog? You must know EVERYTHING about music then!"

"What do you mean you don't like (insert generic indie band or overrated rap artist *cough* Kendrick Lamar *cough* here)? Don't you have a music blog? I thought you'd have better taste in music!!!"

"You suck."

I present to you excerpts from the glamorous life of a music blogger. Alright I'm exaggerating quite a bit, particularly on that last one, but it seems that a lot of people grossly overestimate my knowledge of all things music. Sure I can tell you Lady Gaga's singles discography, I know the chart peaks Killing Heidi rose to in the early 2000s and I'm so close to being able to rap Azealia Banks' '212' in its entirety by heart. So very close. Awesome as that will be to master, it doesn't exactly make me the Ayatollah of musical enlightenment. Stumbling across the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die last week, I decided it was time to explore some genres and artists I've expertly avoided (or just plain ole' haven't heard of) in the past. The challenge? To listen to each and every album presented in 1001 Albums... from start to finish with the intention of broadening my musical knowledge. Who knows, maybe I'll even listen to an album more than once if it warrants another go. Therein lies the point of this new feature; listen... or die? Are these supposedly incredible albums we MUST listen to before meeting the true death (sorry, been watching True Blood) really worth it? Or can I save you a potentially wasted forty-five minutes that you would never get back (like the forty-five minutes I'll never get back after watching True Blood)? Listen. Die. I'll be the judge of that. We start in a decade that saw the rise of rock and or roll through Elvis and his shakin' pelvis; the 1950s! Our first star? 'Ol Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra...

by Frank Sinatra (1955)
Running Time: 50:25

1. In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning
2. Mood Indigo
3. Glad To Be Unhappy
4. I Get Along Without You Very Well
5. Deep In A Dream
6. I See Your Face Before Me
7. Can't We Be Friends?
8. When Your Lover Has Gone
9. What Is This Thing Called Love
10. Last Night When We Were Young
11. I'll Be Around
12. Ill Wind
13. It Never Entered My Mind
14. Dancing On The Ceiling
15. I'll Never Be The Same
16. This Love Of Mine

Song titles can tell you a lot about an album. One quick glance at the track listing for In The Wee Small Hours and you already know what you're in for. This is a break-up album. 'Glad To Be Unhappy,' 'When Your Lover Has Gone,' 'I'll Never Be The Same.' When I think of Frank Sinatra, it's all Christmas carols and 'South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)' and the theme from Married With Children. Dude brings the happy, right? In The Wee Small Hours is the exact opposite of everything I thought I knew about the late, great Frank Sinatra.

"In the wee small hours of the morning, that's the time you miss her most of all." And so begins the heartache, as Sinatra's deep, dreamy and incredibly lonely voice floats alongside real strings. Real strings? Yes. Remember, we are now in a galaxy far, far away and there's nothing electronic to be found. There is a real orchestra present and it's kinda beautiful, but mostly you'll just feel a little bit sad. That's Frank Sinatra the storyteller selling you the lyrics with the emotion in his voice. 'In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning' sets the tone for the entire album; "there ain't nobody who cares about me" angst-filled lyrics, the deep, engaging vocals at the forefront and the supporting orchestra at the back with the jazzy piano lines, sweeping strings and brass. A small problem is, that's the entire album in a nutshell. Each song moves at the same pace with one track becoming almost indistinguishable from the next. The only thing stopping it from slipping completely into 'background music' territory is Sinatra himself singing lines like, "I thought I found the gal I could trust, what a bust, this is how the story ends, she's gonna turn me down and say, can't we be just friends?" and, "I love my ceiling more, since it is a dancing floor, just for my love." Ridiculous today? Perhaps, but the words from icons like Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart capture the 50s perfectly. I know I'll be saying "whatta bust" in a terrible New York accent as often as possible for a week or two.

So, listen or die? That's the question of the day. After sitting through sixteen Sinatra ballads, I'm surprising even myself by saying go on, give it a LISTEN. There's a lot to love; old time charm, an emphasis on the singer with the real life orchestra supporting said singer, not dominating proceedings. You're probably not going to want to bust it out at a box social or club night or school dance or anything, but try it on a Sunday night with a glass of wine and you'll enjoy it. Maybe just take a break every four songs and get another glass of wine or something.       

Key Tracks: 'I Get Along Without You Very Well,' 'Can't We Be Friends?' and 'I'll Be Around.'  

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