One of the few great song stylists the UK has produced in recent years.
Michael Quinn 2008
Most people take their foot off the pedal when they reach pensionable age. Not Tony Christie, who turned 65 in April this year. Aiming to make the most of a newfound popularity sparked by comedian Peter Kay's chart-topping use of his 1971 hit Is This the Way to Amarillo?, Christie has returned to the studio, 42 years after releasing his first solo single, for an album that mixes new material with covers of songs by fellow Sheffieldians Pulp, The Human League and The Arctic Monkeys.
Christie's indie credentials date back at least a decade to All Seeing I's Jarvis Cocker-penned Walk Like A Panther. Here, ex-Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley is in the producer's chair (alongside Colin Elliott) and he takes a low-key, decidedly unostentatious approach to both the new and familiar material on offer.
Issued on the Decca label – an imprint that once proudly declared itself as ''The Home of Opera'' and which is now also home to vocal luminaries such as David Cassidy and Peter Conway (who?) – Made in Sheffield takes a late-nite lounge approach that emphasises the love-lorn and the low-key and risks over-staying its welcome.
Things start promisingly enough with a beautifully plangent take on The Artic Monkey's Only Ones Who Know (taken from last year's Favourite Worst Nightmare) and a bittersweet lighters-in-the-air rendition of Perfect Moon by relative newcomers Sara Jay and Mark Sheridan. But the retro 70s power-pop ballad take on Pulp's Born To Cry, complete with wailing electric guitar and portentous percussion misses the mark by a considerable margin, an error compounded by Christie's own twee barbershop-accented All I Ever Care About Is You. It's a similar problem with the rockabilly Going Home Tomorrow – another competent-enough Christie composition but one that indulgently splits the album's focus.
Although there's an appropriate moodiness about The Human League's Louise, Christie’s perspective on the narrative proves far too considered and ponderous. Much more successful is Martin Bragger’s Danger is a Woman in Love. A slow-burning scene-stealing Bond theme-in-waiting, it benefits from superbly judged arrangements and a performance of pinpoint precision from Christie, beautifully paced and pitched. Clearly a considerable writing talent and a real find, Bragger's second offering, Paradise Square, is a mature, well-crafted ballad that behaves as if it were a lullaby. Craftily, it pushes Christie to the edge of crooning and is all the better for it.
Producer Hawley's album closer Coles Corner, heralded by Guy Barker's magnificent Chet Baker-like trumpet, and underpinned by brushed percussion, darkly luminous vibes and cosseting electric guitar, seems tailor-made for Christie and prompts his finest performance here.
Still obviously in fine voice, Christie certainly merits greater recognition. Accomplished and welcome though it is, the far too narrow focus of Made in Sheffield means it falls disappointingly short of showcasing the full expressive range of one of the few great song stylists the UK has produced in recent years.