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Cut-Price Primer To A Top Dollar Act
on 29 May 2012
This CD is yer standard no-expense-spent Pickwick Hallmark offering. You won't find any sleeve notes here detailing the back story to this phenomenal creative and commercial smash, or how revolutionary it was to the stage musical in a similar way that its theatrical contemporary 'Beyond The Fringe' was to comedy. Nope, what you get is the song titles, a credit for the composers, and, er, that's it.
As for the sound quality, it's pretty good considering these recordings are not taken from the original master tape source. The CD is a direct transfer from a vinyl record; this is blatantly apparent when, during the quieter musical moments, one can hear the stylus grinding through the groove. Worse is when the sound occasionally distorts at the loudest musical peaks.
Despite the budgetary restraints in its audio and textual representation, this album is great. The songs - despite being over 50 years old - are still vibrant, powerful, emotive (without resorting to mawkish, cloying sentimentality) and witty (both musically and lyrically).
Anna Quayle - whom I only knew from her comically haughty, deeply eccentric appearances in films such as 'Smashing Time', Casino Royale' and 'A Hard Day's Night' - is a revelation as a singer, imbuing her numbers with a sharp comic sensibility and a serious vulnerability.
But, of course, it's Anthony Newley's show. You either love his idiosyncratic, highly individual singing style or you hate it. There's no in-between. His influence on David Bowie is well-known but, hearing Newley here, in full flow, one understands what a vital and liberating force he has been for successive generations of British pop singers in his refusal to 'Americanize' his voice or to temper his excesses. Major stars in the Pop firmament (like Robert Wyatt, Ian Dury, Morrissey & Damon Albarn) as well as minor twinkles (David Devant & His Spirit Wife, Bisonics, The Streets & Pink Floyd) owe Newley a great debt.
'Gonna Build A Mountain' (his odd pronunciation of 'moun-TANE' was similarly used by Roger Daltrey almost a decade later on The Who's 'See Me, Feel Me' and 'Song Is Over') and 'What Kind Of Fool Am I?' are the much-covered familiar standards of 'Stop The World...' but the lesser well-known songs aren't lacking in compositional ingenuity and vocal brilliance. Lovers of 'Reasons to Be Cheerful Pt.3'-type tongue-in-cheek pop will find 'Mumbo Jumbo' a tasty treat, for instance.
This is a good, bargain-priced introduction to the world of Anthony Newley. If you're intrigued by this decidedly odd bod, try the excellent 'Newley Discovered' CD, and seek out the 'Pure Imagination'/'Ain't It Funny' twofer. Then there's the 'Gurney Slade' DVD, 'The Small World Of Sammy Lee', 'Heironymus Merkin'...