Spiteri doesn’t opt for obvious choices, but fails to make these songs her own.
Michael Quinn 2010-03-17
Fresh from the commercial success of Melody, her debut solo offering in 2008, Sharleen Spiteri steps away from 60s pastiche to root herself solidly in the middle of the road with a baker’s dozen-worth of never more than passable covers aimed squarely at Radio 2.
The Movie Songbook is hardly a cutting-edge idea, more a blunt re-hashing of a disparate collection of songs strung together by the mere coincidence of having featured on a film soundtrack. Agreeably enough, Spiteri doesn’t always opt for the obvious choice, but she never seems completely certain of how to make the material her own. The production – shared by the singer with Phil Ramone and Texas bandmate Johnny McElhone – echoes the uncertainty, pulling in every direction it can and on too many occasions all at once.
When Spiteri stays closest to the original – as with Jeff Lynne’s bright, buoyant Xanadu and the Bee Gees’ anthemic jeremiad If I Can’t Have You – the results are enjoyable enough. But that’s before you encounter the spectacularly misconceived cover of Billie Holiday’s God Bless the Child (Spiteri bizarrely pitching it as a seductive torch song), the unconvincing, rockabilly-laced Cat People (Putting Out Fire), and a strung-out and strangulated This One’s From the Heart that Tom Waits himself would struggle to recognise as his own.
Ramone’s fingerprints are all over a brooding Sound of Silence and a brassy What’s New Pussycat?, both of which benefit from vocal performances unhindered by Spiteri’s well-intentioned but otherwise woefully executed urge to ‘characterise’ songs. Straining for effect in Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross, she rapidly descends into an unintelligible whole as the airbrushed production goes doodling off on its own.
Perhaps it just seems worse than it is because it’s not as good as it could have been. Or perhaps it’s because this is material that makes too many demands of a voice with a narrow range and a tendency to clot and congeal.