“This is the nearest thing to crazy I have ever known”
There’s something rather amusing about the idea of Ms Paige leafing through her address book to decide who made the grade to appear on her latest duets album, last year’s Elaine Paige and Friends. We are most definitely in MOR territory here instead of musical theatre and the guest list reflects that with names like Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, Michael Bolton and Paul Anka popping up. There’s a couple of nods to her theatrical background too with John Barrowman and Idina Menzel on board too but the idea that either US country star LeAnn Rimes or controversial Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor stretches credulity just a little – it is however not surprising that Ms Dickson does not return here…
I must state for the record that this CD was purchased in the AgeUK charity shop in Sheffield for the princely sum of £1.99 – it was not one that I had envisaged buying previously but the combination of the unlikely aspects of the tracklisting and the simply delightful cover images meant that it was irresistible. And boy am I glad it was bought for me as it is one of the most amusing things I have ever listened to, as well as being one of the greatest crimes in recording history. The ways in which this CD, produced by Phil Ramone, offended are many and varied so I’ll just get right in there.
As if the world ever needed a cover version of Katie Melua’s Closest Thing To Crazy, we are granted to the wonder of Ms Paige singing the line about she is “feeling 22, acting 17” with no apparent sense of irony. Madonna’s Take A Bow is destroyed with a plinky-plonky synthesised arrangement which sounds just horrific, Idina Menzel sounds just lovely on it but for some reason the original structure of the song which lends itself so well to duetting has been jettisoned in favour of some frankly horrific harmonies. The song Amoureuse with Olivia Newton-John is just one of the oddest things I have ever heard – lyrically it is insane “I feel the rainfall of another planet” and musically it jumps all over the place in a nasty way. The bossanova backing for Just The Way You Are is a direct copy of one of the preset tracks that I had on a keyboard when I was little, the list just goes on and on.
At the same time though, it is clear that I am not really the target audience for this recording as so many of these guests are people I would never normally choose to listen to. That said, Barry Manilow’s lumbering through The Prayer has precisely zero subtlety, Neil Sedaka feels ill-placed in Make It With You and Michael Bolton is just kidding himself on Sinatra’s All The Way. Billy Ocean alone manages to emerge with some dignity from You Are Everything. The main problem is that Paige rarely connects with her guests, there’s a real sense of dislocation between the pairings, genuine emotion being extremely rare in the overly polished performances and soulless arrangements. Matters aren’t helped by a set of song choices that are predominantly love songs which just feel so very awkward.
Chief amongst the crimes though is Where Is The Love with John Barrowman. The lyrics have been gender-swapped so that they are singing this love song to each other which is wrong on so many levels but things reach an nadir with the freestyling ending with its ad-libs that degenerate into a smug laugh-fest and declaration of love for ‘EP’ – simply vile.
That this is immediately followed by the one decent song on the album throws up the stark contrast even more and indicates the path that could have been taken to create a much more interesting album. It’s Only Love, written by Tim Rice and Gary Barlow, is a curious, darkly string-laden enigma of a song made more intriguing by the presence of Sinéad O’Connor as duet partner. The blend of their voices is really quite effective and by keeping far away from love as a subject matter, it is one of the rare moments where everything falls into place.
It is almost worth keeping an eye out for this CD in charity shops as it has perversely given me so much pleasure in listening to it: it really is so bad it is good. It’s an odd choice for Paige to have made and replete with such questionable decision-making that one does get the sense that no-one has said ‘hold on a minute…’ to her for quite some time. Maybe her fans liked this, I have no idea, but they shouldn’t, this is a truly terrible piece of work.
If can only download one song, make it… It’s Only Life with Sinéad O’Connor