Thursday, February 11, 2010

a place where nobody dared to go

Let me be clear about something. I have been a fan of Texas since the beginning. The moment I heard "I Don't Want A Lover", I knew they were special. It was 1989. That single was everything I loved about pop music at the time. Nearly everything from that era is timeless. Still sounds great.

I followed Texas through their subsequent fall from favor. The UK chart didn't hold Texas close to its heart. Thank goodness for the French. For whatever reason, Texas was able to continue to release album after album because they sold incredibly well in France.

Then came their renaissance. They pushed the bird to the front. Remember, "Blondie is a group." didn't do Debbie Harry and co and favors. I still have the badge.

So Sharleen Spiteri hired a hair stylist and got her sexy on. Voilà! "White On Blonde" sold bucketloads all around the world. Everywhere except the US, that is. It certainly helped to have an amazing album on their hands. A lovely mix of Motown and Northern Soul with shades of Blondie and The Pretenders all the while Sharleen cooing through some of the best pop tunes of Texas' 20 year career. A real high water mark. Success at last.

Texas brought back that retro vibe long before Amy Winehouse made it fashionable (again). It was only a matter of time before Sharl put out a solo album. With a little time on her hands she crafted "Melody" and released it in 2008. It's a glorious album that deserved much more attention that it received. It really should have been a Texas album. It was always going to be tough following it up. She couldn't deliver more of the same. She couldn't go down the electro route with anything resembling credibility.

Unfortunately, we're about to get "The Movie Songbook". Eeek! It must be one of the most ill-advised moves in pop history. Trite doesn't begin to describe it. Apparently, her label reached out to Sharl's mighty fanbase and asked them what kind of album they want from her. Lesson number one in rock n' roll. Never ask your fans for advice. NEVER! Always go with your creative gut feeling.

So, Sharleen is gonna have a bit of a faff about with some movie tunes. Oh dear. I love her and Texas to bits. But this is just all kinds of wrong. Karaoke wrong! It was produced by legendary knob twiddler, Phil Ramone, in eight days at Capitol Studios in LA, man.

The tracklisting for "The Movie Songbook" is as follows:

1. Xanadu
2. If I Can't Have You
3. God Bless The Child
4. Between The Bars
5. The Sound Of Silence
6. What's New Pussycat?
7. The Windmills Of Your Mind
8. Take Me With You
9. Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
10. Many Rivers To Cross
11. O' Pretty Woman

Sharleen's movie madness has been documented in the video she recently shot for "Xanadu" which features many bits and bobs from the time she spent inside Capitol Studios. It's a magnificent and magical place. I've worked there a number of times and am always in awe of it's tremendous history.

Here's proof of Sharleen's slide into boredom. Recently, she performed two songs from her forthcoming longplayer - "Take My Breath Away" and the aforementioned, "Xanadu" - on "The Graham Norton Show".

It sounds perfectly nice. As much as I want to like it, the whole thing hits me like a tasteless, glazed donut. Why would anyone want to hear anything other than Olivia Newton-John's original recording of "Xanadu" with the incandescent backing of the Electric Light Orchestra? Do we need ANOTHER cover of the nail that sealed Berlin's coffin? It was amazing and unexpected when they released it. There was a reason they couldn't follow it up.

"The Movie Songbook" seems completely useless. It pains me to say that. Even the title is awful. It's almost like a Nana Mouskouri album. If you're so inclined, you'll be available to plonk your cash down for it in all fine "shops" on March 1.

Apparently, Sharleen is working on a new Texas album as we speak. She'll need to reedem herself after this little excursion.


  1. DIRE. The Prince and Bowie covers are intriguing, but I expect they will be dreck. Let's hope she did this to get OUT of a contract.

  2. @xolondon - I'm despondent over this. I adore her and Texas. I want to believe it's like that episode of "Dallas" where Bobby died but then the entire previous season was a dream.

    She seems to really be behind this project. Such a let down after "Melody".

  3. It never fails.. every time I read your blog, I come across yet another amazing musician/act that I'd never heard before. :) Her latest efforts aside, this Sharleen Spitiri sounds like an amazing lady and I think I'm going to check out her earlier works. Thanks!

  4. @outoutout - Well, thank you! If you pick up two albums, I would suggest her solo album, "Melody", and the big breakthrough album for her band, Texas, "White On Blonde".

  5. I love Texas, I thought Melody was great, Im glad she will be making another Texas album, but I cant help agree with you here Vinny. This whole thing seems so uninspired. A covers album? Well, if you absolutely must! But The Movie Songbook??? What? They couldnt even drag out a decent title? And what fans decided they wanted THIS instead of something new and interesting? I love Sharleen Spiteri, have all the albums shes done, but cant really get excited about this!


  6. Another in agreement here. I love mid-late period Texas--White on Blonde and The Hush were my faves, and more recently Red Book actually has quite a few stellar songs, and although I was a bit underwhelmed by Melody, this is, simply put, the WRONG move. Unless you are going to bring something completely and utterly new to the proceedings (check the new Peter Gabriel), what is the point? Sadly, it also points out how average her voice CAN be--compare the final few notes with Olivia's original, and you'll see what I mean. Now if Olivia could only do something people were once again drawn to.

    Hopefully many of Sharleen's fans will buy this since this is what they requested of her.

  7. Funny. I was all over the first Texas album. Bought the album, singles, videos. But after that? Pffft. I never heard another thing and for some reason, didn't even wonder about them. When I see the horror of another covers album presented yet again, I can't help but think "no inspiration."

    The cover album trend proliferated in the 90s and I felt they pretty much all sucked*. When no less than Annie Lennox delivered her sickeningly DOA cover album "Medusa" (full of AC lullabies of far stronger original songs) she succeeded in terminating my fandom, which stretched all the way back to The Tourists. I've listened to albums she's done after "Diva" (still a classic, to me) and I've gotten rid of every one. Now I don't even bother. Sharleen Spiteri? She's nowhere near La Lennox class! I bought Texas because I was an Altered Images fan!

    *The dregs of cover albums have ranged from the soporific "Medusa" to the hit-and-miss of Simple Minds' "Neon Lights." The only two cover albums that have worked for me as artistic statements (outside of Bryan Ferry's - he knows how to do this) were the exceptional "Berlin Tapes" by Icehouse and "Town & Country" by Webb Wilder, an artist I daresay you'll never see featured on this blog. The Icehouse record spearheaded the piano/acoustic string format that Peter Gabriel has picked up on 15 years later. Iva Davies managed to create an extremely satisfying whole with that album and, as far as I'm concerned, managed to release definitive takes of battered warhorses like "All Tomorrow's Parties" and even one of Bowie's rare good numbers from his pop god period ("Loving The Alien"). No small feat! It remains one of my favorite Icehouse recordings.

  8. Good lord. I made the mistake of listening to the first 2 minutes of that clip. I'd all but forgotten that song (I don't think I ever heard it to begin with except as environmental noise) and as I'm hardly a fan of ONJ or ELO, this was double torture! As for competent hack Phil Ramone, what's he done for me lately? The only album he's ever touched in my collection is "Getz/Gilberto!" 96% of my life has passed since then!

    It's 86'ed!

    Color me outta here!

  9. @REVO - Excellent comments! These are the meaty, substantive replies I love getting.

    You are completely correct re: Peter Gabriel and Icehouse. Lovingly crafted. Takes you to another, musical plane. You're able to appreciate the song, the artist and the craft.

    Cover albums have mostly left me cold. I worked on two when I was at EMI at the height of the trend - "Ridin' High" which was a tribute to Tin Pan Alley and "Am I Not Your Girl?" by Sinead O'Connor. Both, IMHO, are two of the more superior cover albums. And I agree with you wholeheartedly that Bryan Ferry is one of the few that know how to connect a covers album with an audience. He's done many and all of them are gems.

    However, I would hardly call Phil Ramone a hack. He has a way of nuance with instrumentation and placing a singer's voice in the mix as the focal point but still incorporating it as an instrument at the same time. I will have to check out the Getz/Gilberto album. I wasn't aware he was involved in that landmark recording! Thanks for pointing it out.

    BTW, "Loving The Alien" is probably one of Bowie's most amazing songs of his career. Odd that it's sort of tucked away on "Tonight". It's tough not to lavish praise on that particular track.

  10. There is a clip of her performing "If I Can't Have You," live, at one of the Night of the Proms festivals like a year or two before this dropped. She worked it out live, had a real backing orchestra and everything. Was a bit too sanitized here. I also own every Texas recording, and her first solo effort "Melody."

    In fact, I did a blue-eyed soul piece where Texas made the countdown, "The Hush" is a work of divine art. I've yet to get this, I'm a completist so eventually I will, but I won't expect much. Just sad she couldn't bring that energy from the live version of the previously mentioned cover to its subsequent studio version & album. Excellent idea that could've rocked if done right. Ah well.