Friday, August 10, 2007

No. 100: In the Wee Small Hours

Band: Frank Sinatra
Album: In the Wee Small Hours
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Sinatra is one of the iconic American singers and he sold out every room he played until his death at the age of 82 in 1998. His self-assured vocal style has been imitated by just about everyone, from lounge singers to rock stars.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I absolutely, positively cannot stand Sinatra's vocal delivery. He sounds like he couldn't give a shit if he was singing the best song ever or the worst song ever. For some artists, this is "cool." For Sinatra, he sounds like he's, well, "bored."
Best song: Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?" isn't awful. It's jut really bad.
Worst song: Everything else.
Is it awesome?: No. No. No. A thousand times no.

It's kind of sad that I have to end the first fifth of this list with a review of a record that

  1. I don't know very well, despite listening to it five times in the last two days.

  2. I don't like at all.

  3. Probably doesn't belong on the list, as Sinatra's not a rock, hip hop, soul or jazz singer, by any rationale.

I bitch and moan about the tyranny of the boomers, but Sinatra is not even a boomer icon. He hated hippies and minorities (though was friends with noted black Jew Sammy Davis Jr.) and he exemplified a very strange idea of "cool." Save for the revival of the Rat Pack style and swing music nonsense n the late 1990s, what Sinatra considered "cool" in America hasn't been cool since, well, The Beatles came ashore in 1963.

People love Sinatra. Like Ray Charles, I've never known Sinatra to be a young man, or virile, or a swinging partier. Sinatra, to me, is the caricature Phil Hartman and Joe Piscopo portrayed him as on Saturday Night Live: The crotchety old man who just wanted to put the track down and get home.

Listen to the record. It's all ballads about love, basically, recorded in a melancholy fashion. The arrangements of old standards follow a very spare rhythm section's backing.

I like sad love songs, but Sinatra's delivery sounds like he doesn't care. Recorded after his breakup with Ava Gardner, the reviews I've read seem to make it sound like he's pouring that emotion into his singing. But, to me, it sounds like he just wants to get out of the studio.

I just don't get it. I'm not into just plain vocalists doing standards. They bore me. Sinatra bores me.


Postscript: I understand a lot of Sinatra's deification comes from New Yorker (and Jersey people) and those of Italian heritage. I have one of those things (Italian-American heritage) but I just don't see that as important for my interest or disinterest in his music. Also, I find the New Yorkers who love Sinatra (notice I didn't say all New Yorkers) annoying.

1 comment:

fft said...

I think your view of Sinatra is of a guy late in his career (e.g. the Joe Piscopo Frank). Its sort of like judging Paul McCartney from his albums and behavior in this decade vs. what he did in the 60's.

This album was released in 1955 - the same year the Elvis Presley debut came out. Sinatra was about as Rock & Roll as you got back then and you could argue that the lifestyle compared well with Led Zeppelin partying on The Starship airplane in the 70's, but in a 50's kind of way.

That said, I am glad I wasnt alive in the 50's but when I hear old Frank, I think about the 50's and not the 70's or 80's.