Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown is the 2009 album The Performance by Welsh national treasure, Dame Shirley Bassey. Is there nothing like a Dame, or will this be a weak performance? Read on…
This album is, as the sticker suggests, an ‘extraordinary album of all-new material’. Usually, Shirley’s recent albums consist of cover versions, or at least sneaks in some new interpretations of the old favourites. No, this album was all entirely new.
The album opens with a mellow trumpet luring us into Almost There. This is a slow ballad, an Shirley tells us ‘I’m not so so young, I’m not quite so foolish’, but we know that this is not so true. It’s a simple song, that gets to show off Shirley’s vocal range, but holds back the power until the final 1.5min when she, along with the swell of the orchestra, lifts the songs with her trademark huge vocals.
That’s followed by Apartment, which was written for her by Rufus Wainwright. Some speculate that this was to be a single, likely due to her performances of this track on TV, but it did not materialise. Regardless, the tempo picks up a pace, and it is loaded with warm strummed guitars and some wonderfully percussion, giving it a semi-latino sound. Some seriously funky sounding saxophones join in for the final chapter, adding a nice contrast to Shirley’s vocals and the guitars, and resulting in a fairly catchy little tune.
Next up is This Time, which was apparently going to be a single (even Bruce Forsyth said so on TV), but seemingly didn’t materialise. This didn’t stop her singing it with Gary Barlow – the song’s writer – for Children In Need in 2009. Gary’s piano playing has a supporting role here in the album version and he doesn’t join her on the microphone, rightly allowing Shirley to gently work with the orchestra as she delivers this nice little song, which apparently got massively truncated from the original.
That’s followed by I Love You Now, written by Nick Hodgson of Kaiser Chiefs. This is a mid-tempo track, in which Shirley’s vocals dominate the gentle swirling strings, and electronic percussion sounds that shuffle along in the background. It’s a nice enough song, but struggles to give Shirley enough lyrically to show off with, and leaves her a bit short-changed.
Our Time Is Now follows this, written by legendary James Bond composer John Barry and lyricist Don Black – they wrote her earlier hit Diamonds Are Forever. Here, the duo have given Shirley a pretty gentle track, that doesn’t tread anywhere near her Bond success, and doesn’t require much of the Bassey power. That doesn’t stop her blasting those vocal chords for the chorus, even if it’s only brief.
Next is the David Arnold and David McAlmont track As God Is My Witness – they covered her Diamonds Are Forever hit, and David Arnold is also of Bond Theme composer fame. Instead, Shirley gets another gentle song, but this does allow her vocals to lead the way as an electric guitar gently roars in the background. It’s nice enough, but just falls a little short. Apparently the track was almost scrapped due to disagreements over the arrangement.
No Good About Goodbye follows this, again with David Arnold at the writer helm, but this time with Don Black again, and this track feels like the first time that we’re being treated to a song that nods back towards Shirley’s James Bond heritage. There’s nods in the melody and orchestra that reminds you of her hits throughout, and especially the ending. Finally the track we needed, and you could almost imagine the silhouettes of naked women dancing as pistol imagery fires…!
Following this is Girl From Tiger Bay, a respectful to Shirley’s Welsh origins, from fellow Welshmen The Manic Street Preachers. You can definitely hear them stylistically, and on the guitars. It is a wonderful song, and Shirley sounds like she’s oozing pride as she’s sings.
Brass introduce the only female-written track, Nice Men, penned by KT Tunstall. It sounds playful, and Shirley sounds like she’s having plenty of fun here, perhaps akin to her Big Spender fame. The brass section sits throughout, alongside guitar, as the track plods steadily along. Vocally, Shirley gets quite a nice range to cover, challenged only by the trumpeter.
After The Rain is the penultimate track, written by Richard Hawley (formerly of Longpigs and briefly Pulp). This finds Shirley taking a nice slow ballad, led by a beautiful piano. The track builds steadily as cello and bass join in, but it’s Shirley’s vocals that yet again command here. It’s a really nice yet sad song, and the vocals are tender and warm.
The album closes with the Pet Shop Boys-penned The Performance Of My Life. A harp lures us in as a wave of orchestral strings meet us. Shirley sounds absolutely phenomenal here, and rightly so – her vocal power and range are used here correctly, as the cellos and violins swirl around her. Whilst the PSBs wrote this, it sounds like it is about Shirley’s life on stage – no wonder it’s said to have drawn her to tears. It weighs in at 3mins 33s, but it feels half as long and you just want more from her. What a belter of an ending.
Over all, this album was created by music royalty for music’s national treasure.
Whilst some of the songs are mediocre, some are beautiful and allow Shirley to unleash the vocal power that we know is still in her. No Good About Goodbye and The Performance Of My Life are the highlights here, especially the latter. There is no reason to work with Shirley Bassey only to cage her like a bird, and thankfully John Barry, Don Black, and the Pet Shop Boys knew how to write something that she deserved.
Elsewhere, Apartment, This Time, and After The Rain are great songs, but sadly I Love You Now is the lowest point, and a boring mis-use of this phenomenal talent. That song could really have been written for anyone. I’m really glad that the songwriters kept off the vocals.
It’s a nice album, but when Shirley shines, you’ll really notice.
- POP RESCUE 2020 REVIEW RATING: 4 / 5 (the final song earned one of those alone)
- 2009 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #20, certified Gold by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: 20p from a Marie Curie shop.