My favorite thing about this album is how many of these songs I already love, especially the ones that hail from the 70’s. It makes me very happy that JB is only three years younger than me, rather than the 10 or so that he appears. And that he’s not afraid to show his cheesy, schmaltzy side. There is more to life than Sondheim and Cole Porter. Sometimes you need a bit of Velveeta in your life.
Some critical analysis, some fan-girly squeee-age.
That being said, there’s a lot of risk in doing songs that are so well known in extremely individual renditions, in some cases by the writers themselves, as opposed to either the Cole Porter songs which are open to endless interpretation or the theater songs like Sunset Boulevard or Why, God Why? where the story dictates the intonations. The man has got some serious clanking cojones.
In a few cases, there’s what I call the “record skip” issue, which shows my age by referencing vinyl. I can hear the originals so clearly in my head and on the songs where he mostly does it exactly the same way, but then something is just a little off, it’s like a record skip in my brain. This may change over time as I listen to the songs more and his versions take over shelf space in my mind. (This is sort of in the process of happening with All I Ask Of You and A Boy From Nowhere.)
Here are my reactions to the individual songs:
All Out of Love-I love Air Supply and I've always loved this song. It's a perfect sing along to the AM radio song. When I first heard the sample, I was a little concerned about John’s voice being buried in the mix, but now I’m sold. He obviously loves singing it and OMG the video! (If you haven’t seen it, click HERE right now, but be prepared to swoon. The shirts alone are worth the price of admission.) There’s definitely an element of cheesiness and smarm there, but you just get carried away by sweep of the song and his joy in singing it. This one is a virtual copy of the original and that works well here.
You’re So Vain-Another song I know backwards/forwards/up and down as recorded by Carly Simon. Used to sing at the top of my lungs in the car with BFF Jennifer. I love John singing it as written because it suggests a whole different backstory of a closeted older man seducing a new boy on the scene and losing him because he can’t come out. “You gave away the things you loved, and one of them was me.” Or you can see it as Jack singing to the Doctor.
I have a record skip moment on the line “You flew your Lear Jet up to Nova Scota” because I’m so used to the way Carly Simon manages to break “flew” into two syllables “fl-ew,” John doesn’t do that. Obviously he doesn’t want to imitate her to that extent, but it’s just weird not to hear it. Also, I think it’s funny the way the strings take the place of Mick Jagger singing back-up.
She’s Always A Woman-John sounds really good here. You can hear his voice clearly. My only quibble is where he sings “She is frequently kind” instead of “She’s frequently kind.” OK, Billy Joel is NO Cole Porter, but he did write it to scan a certain way and it sounds off, when it doesn’t.
Time After Time-Beautiful. Gorgeous arrangement. He really makes this feel like a stage piece and the lush strings work well.
The record skip moments comes at the end during “I will be waiting” repetitions, when I’m waiting for that place where Cyndi does the key jump and it just brings the whole song together. Again, I know John wants to make it his own and that’s a Cyndi thing, but it’s like an aural itch that I can’t scratch not to hear it here.
Weekend In New England-If you’re going to go over-the-top, this is the way to do it. How much do I love that John is a Barry Manilow fan. Me and Barry go way back. “Classic Barry” is still awesome. John does this note for note down to the inflections and the key jumps and it’s perfect.
Every Little Thing She Does is Magic-I’m going to go out on a limb and call this the best of the pop covers on the album, specifically because it’s so different from the original. I feel like he has the most fun with it, stretching his voice, getting in that sexy growl and just having a blast. Plus there’s THIS image indelibly stuck in my head. OH BABYBABYBABY! The moves. The HIPS! The kicks. The dancing. He walks a thin line between Charm and Smarm here, but the smile at the end totally makes it work.
If You Leave Me Now-Elevator music. This feels like a wasted slot on the album.
Your Song-I hadn’t heard any samples of this before I listened to the whole thing this morning and it really took me by surprise. I like the way he treats it as theater piece and makes it VERY BIG. I’m not sure Bernie Taupin’s lyrics stand up to that treatment however, but I'd still give the track a thumbs up.
Please Remember Me-I’m not a massive Tim McGraw fan, but I hear this one a lot at karaoke because we have a large country contingent. I’ve read some interviews with John where he relates this song to his partner’s sister passing away from cancer, and I think that emotion carries the lyrics a lot farther than the original.
Heaven-NO! Just no. Sorry, John. You are too good a singer to be wasting your time on this crap. I literally couldn’t get past the first verse. John has made me listen to and love material that I normally can’t abide but that only goes so far and this ain’t it. You want to do a ballad with sexual over-tones by a raspy-voiced singer? Make my smut dreams come true and sing “Tonight’s The Night.”
Being Alive-YES! A million times yes. You’re right, hllangel, this arrangement is better than the one on Reflections From Broadway because it starts out more subtly giving him time to build up to the big finish, and he hits it out of the ball park. Apparently, Sondheim thinks John was the best Bobby ever and this recording makes me cry that I didn’t get to see that. (Also as michelleann68 has pointed out in the commentary for her Halloween fic it, you can read this as a song where Captain Jack comes to terms with his immortality.)
Feeling Good-Very “Welcome to the Lounge.” Which I like, kind of. I don’t think this version conveys the energy of the live performance seen HERE I'll bet if he does this on the tour, it will be amazing.
All By Myself-Another weak choice. Nothing new in the arrangement and it's not a great song. The piano does all the acting and I don't think John does anything great here. If he really wanted to go even farther over-the-top, I would suggest one of the Jim Steinman epics.
So everybody should definitely go out and buy it. Buy many, many copies. Give John a big hit in the states so he will come here and do shows and I can see him. We’ll all meet up in Vegas. See ya there.
Poll at John's website to pick your favorite song on the album: