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This review is from: Newley Discovered (Audio CD)
Its complete absence of recording information notwithstanding - the sleeve notes make no mention of when these recordings were made, or where, or who's accompanying Newley, or who is rolling the tape - 'Newley Discovered' is nothing short of a musical masterpiece, and a great testament to the artistry of a most singular and eccentric talent.
Anthony Newley was something of a mystery to me before getting this record. I was aware of his Artful Dodger, of course, and 'Pop Goes The Weasel', and I'd read enough articles on David Bowie down the years to realise Newley's vocal style influencing and fuelling The Thin White Diamond Dog, but that was about it. I bought 'Newley Discovered' purely because I wanted the 'Oompa Loompa' song from the 'Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory' film and, just like the chocolate factory itself, this album is an abundance of delights and tasty treats.
The opening ten songs, from Newley's 'Heironymus Merkin'film (a brave and baffling work where Bruce Forsyth meets Fellini), sounds like a cabaret version of the similarly self-lacerating 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' album. Newley, like Lennon after him, trawls through the mess of his upbringing (both singers coincidentally lacking a father presence), tries to make sense of his catalogue of failed relationships, and rejects religion as a false comfort. It's a daring, unsparing suite - though not without humour.
The six songs from 'Willy Wonka' are, for me, the definitive readings. True, Newley released more fully-orchestrated versions on 1971's 'Pure Imagination' LP but these are far more intimate and touching in their scaled-down arrangements. There's an irrepressible joy in 'I've Got A Golden Ticket' and 'The Candy Man' (with its hilarious intro, missing from the film rendition), and 'Cheer up, Charlie' not only will break your heart but put it together again, anew and afresh.
The remaining five songs, from the 1975 film 'Mr. Quilp', lack the introspection and self-analysis of the 'Merkin' selection. But that's no bad thing. These are 'character' songs (from a musical based on Dickens' 'The Old Curiosity Shop') and are tuneful, ebullient, inventive and witty. They are strong enough to bear comparison with that celebrated musical version of another Dickens classic - I refer, of course, to Lionel Bart's 'Oliver!' That's high praise indeed.
'Newley Discovered' is both the perfect way in to begin a journey through the weird world of Anthony Newley and also a great summation of his musical and theatrical gifts.