posted on December 12, 2008 09:48
A review of Tony Christie's album 'Made in Sheffield'
Review Snapshot: Medallion man steps out of comfort zone, and covers the Arctic Monkeys. "Made in Sheffield " is uneasy listening but it should be heard.
The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10
Early noughties there was a vogue for people recycling American songs from the 40s. Rod Stewart, Boz Scaggs and Bryan Ferry all dipped their toes in the American songbook pool with wildly varying results. More recently there's been a move towards a kind of musical last will and testament – artistes in their twilight years striving to leave some sort of credible musical legacy. Johnny Cash's last work with Rick Rubin was a very extreme case in point – his vocals on Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" were to all intents and purposes a musical death rattle, you could hear the air fall from his lungs and his heartbeat receding as he shivered through to the last chords. Latterly Neil Diamond also worked in the same general musical vicinity with Rick Rubin. It bought him a degree of cred but you felt he was thinking - forget "Crackling Rosie", "Sweet Caroline", "Forever in blue jeans", this is the real, tortured me that I want you to remember.
Follow on down a little further on this road and you'll come across "Made in Sheffield", impeccably produced by Richard Hawley and his band colleague Colin Elliot. Hawley's own material is pretty much peerless, featuring arrangements that are subtle and that allow his own songs to breathe. The concept on this album is that all of the songs are written by people from Sheffield, including contributions from Christie himself and Richard Hawley. The easier option for someone like Christie would have been to take the afore-mentioned American standards route but with "Made in Sheffield" he's taken a very adventurous step and broken some new ground - hardly a case of Christie does Slipknot but it's a bold step nevertheless and one justified by the album's choice and breadth of material. And yet I fear for it and for Christie's success with it. "Made in Sheffield" should shift by the vanload but Christie has to overcome a number of prejudices – indie rockers will despise it because Tony Christie is music their gummy grannies listen to. On the other hand it won't appeal to the end of pier brigade because it does not feature any hit material but instead features new songs with some uncomfortable moments and truths.
"Made in Sheffield " is a particularly miraculous collection if you remember Christie from the seventies. He swaggered onto shows like "Golden Shot" on miserable Sunday afternoons, big hair, big lapels, shirt open to his navel and a set of pipes that knocked down walls. Tom Jones had power and resonance but Christie was urgent and a little twitchy – "Avenues and alleyways" is a classic, his voice in raucous cinemascope. A little while back Peter Kay picked up on "Is this the way to Amarillo?" You've heard it a million times, it's kitsch, it's dated, it's karaoke – listen to the vocals though, Christie kicks this song along at a rate of knots. Very late nineties he recorded "Walk Like a Panther" a very arch and funny piece of work with the All Seeing I (a front for Pulp's Jarvis Cocker). Christie recognised the glint in this song's eye but he played it straight and knew the score.
Christie himself has physically shrunk and his voice has too – he's a bona fide crooner with a decent range and an expressive tone. His voice works perfectly on "Made in Sheffield", which opens with the glistening strings that herald the Arctic Monkeys' "only ones who know" – I never "got" Alex Turner till I heard this song, it doesn't rhyme, it doesn't scan but it's a brilliant observation on loneliness, meeting up, breaking up, moving on and just wondering why - Christie sings "I hope you're holding hands on New year's eve" and makes you want to weep. Donald Fagan would call it Christmas without the chintzy stuff. And he'd be right. "Perfect Moon" is an afternoon tea dance number, and Christie glides through it but even here there's an aching. Christie's own two songs are a score draw- "All I ever care about is you" is a "honey pie" rewrite, it's a soft shoe shuffle, just this side of bland but "Going home tomorrow " is a real pearl, a crying in your beer jaunty little country number that would have graced any Marty Robbins album. "Danger is a woman in love" on the other hand is a thoroughbred torch ballad, the nearest thing to his old seventies catalogue. It's all John Barry and femme fatale but Christie does not vamp and gives the song the respect it deserves with the result that it works on serious and not so serious levels.
Christie's version of Richard Hawley's "Coles Corner" is respectful but the song itself is so good that Kate Perry could do a house version of it and still make you come over all melancholic and winsome. However "Born to cry," third track in, is this album's killer cut. Written by Jarvis Cocker, Hawley and Pulp, this is a stunning piece of melodrama centring on a couple at a crossroads. Everything here is just about perfect- the crescendo arrangement, Christie's voice that barely contains its pain, a huge chorus and a fade that gives the nod to the Fab Four's "Dear Prudence". It's uneasy listening – when Christie sings "you say you're trying to make things better / how come you always make things worse" you're reminded of every hellish moment of every burnt out relationship you've ever had.
"Made in Sheffield" is as good a collection of songs as anything you'll hear this year. It should not be labelled, pigeon-holed or categorised. It's honest, heartfelt, entertaining. It's great music.
Buy it and enjoy it.