Dame Shirley Bassey, Britain’s most successful female artist ever, releases her first full studio album in over 20 years. The Performance
was produced by David Arnold, the Grammy Award-winner best known for scoring five James Bond
films and features songs written specifically for Dame Shirley by a stellar cast of contemporary artists, including Take That’s Gary Barlow, Manic Street Preachers, Pet Shop Boys, KT Tunstall and Rufus Wainwright.
After 2007’s patchy, Grandma-with-a-ringtone album Get the Party Started, The Performance is a return to what Bassey does best: sweeping, orchestral overstatement. This collection is also contemporary, but instead of resorting to Mark Ronson or other remixers du-jour, she mines the talents of a collection of disparate, yet established songwriters.
The turned-to-11 string arrangements could fuel space travel, so there is little room for restraint. Given Bassey’s three Bond themes, it is fitting that the current 007 soundtracker, David Arnold, is producer/arranger here. John Barry even hands her his first song since Diamonds Are Forever – shame it’s not as good, but then what is? The collaborations gel neatly with Arnold’s production, particularly an unlikely Kaiser Chiefs’ contribution, which resists a Bassey Britpop vocal about shoplifting and is surprisingly Bond-ish. It’s certainly superior to recent under-written themes, even if I Love You Now will struggle to find a suitable villain.
Another highlight is Rufus Wainwright’s flamenco-esque Apartment, where Bassey finds the skip of a woman half her age. However, Gary Barlow’s contribution does little to stem his slide into music so polite it should now be excused.
It’s easy to forget, with the avalanche of indie sixth-formers wishing to share their worldly wisdom, the value of well-earned lines such as the shimmering “Now, I’m not quite so young / I’m not quite so foolish in my defence” sung by a 72-year-old, although adding “I’m not your girl…” may be pushing it.
There is a midway lull, with As God Is My Witness meandering so idly one sympathises with the big fellow. Surprisingly, things are saved by Manic Street Preachers’ wistfully autobiographical The Girl From Tiger Bay, which echoes Bassey’s turn on Propellerheads’ History Repeating, while Pet Shop Boys continue their healthy track record of writing for female icons with the defiantly fragile title track.
Admirably shaking away cruise-ship shtick, Bassey wraps herself around these songs with gusto, meaning that perhaps, for once, mum’s Christmas present will find a place on the family stereo. --Tom Hocknell
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