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The Performance Of Her Life
on 27 November 2009
At the beginning of 2009, if somebody had told me that one of my favourite albums of the year was going to be by Shirley Bassey, I think I would have laughed at them, but it's true. Now, ever since I first heard it, I've been busy telling incredulous people how great it is. I don't blame them for not believing me, because in this case, hearing is believing. The combination of the undeniably fabulous songs, passionately and beautifully delivered by Shirley and a magnificent orchestra, all produced by David Arnold, is just musical heaven. What's even more impressive is the roll-call of the songwriters who have contributed to this album's success, plus the fact that Shirley hasn't gone down the road of simply covering the classics - she has a whole host of excellent musicians queuing up to write her new classics!
Such is the quality of this album, I could list every single track as a highlight, but for the sake of brevity, I will briefly describe the real talking points. "Almost There", which is my personal favourite Tom Baxter song, opens "The Performance" - and what a performance it is! When the heartbreaking song swells and explodes, it gives the listener chills down your neck and spine... absolutely magnificent. Track two is "Apartment", a Latin-tinted, toe-tapping Rufus Wainwright song, penned specifically for this album, sounding every bit like a modern Shirley Bassey classic. The first time I listened to the album, I did so without reading the liner notes, wanting to guess who had written the different songs. For the beautiful, loungey "This Time", I was guessing Burt Bacharach, mainly because of the time signature, use of strings and the muted horns - but it was none other than Gary Barlow. To be perfectly honest, I'm impressed.
"I Love You Now", composed by Nick Hodgson of The Kaiser Chiefs, is a classy, minor key beauty, which could easily have been written for Shirley in her heyday. "No Good About Goodbye", brilliantly written by David Arnold and Don Black, is just superb and could easily have been a 70's Bond theme - and what a vocal performance by Shirley. My personal pick on the album is the tremendous "The Girl From Tiger Bay", written by the Manic Street Preachers and David Arnold. As a huge fan of James Dean Bradfield and the Manics, it's almost frustrating to hear such a brilliant song given away - but what a worthy cause! Wonderful, tailor-made lyrics for Ms. Bassey as well. The last highlight of the album, for me, is the slightly camp, but genuinely touching and emotional Pet Shop Boys-written finale, "The Performance Of My Life". Other songs on the album are written by John Barry & Don Black, David Arnold and David McAlmont, KT Tunstall and Richard Hawley - and they're all excellent.
I doubt that it could be said that I'm Dame Shirley's typical audience, but the names behind the songs drew me into this album and it has turned out to be one of the greatest albums I've heard all year. Whatever your "normal" taste in music, this is a sensational album, absolutely packed with wonderful songs and some of the finest performances by a vocalist you will have ever heard. I can't recommend "The Performance" highly enough. Every home should have a copy!