October 23, 2003

Crypt of Mediocrity

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Here’s an “idea”: record Frank Sinatra’s voice in one studio. Record a bunch of has-beens and never-weres in another. Arbitrarily mix and get Phil Ramone to produce. In the annals of bad ideas, this is the foundation; to have any bad idea at all, you first need to think of this bad idea, and then try to extrapolate from it. In comparison, shouting “Eugenic Jazz Flat-top!” while running over babies with a steamroller is the idea of the century. But to be fair, imagine being Sinatra at this point in his career. Duets came out when he was almost 80. After a lifetime of enduring tourists who kept yelling, “Womanize for a second! Can you womanize with my boy? We’re from Pheonix,” it’s understandable why Sinatra would not even remotely care about the quality of this recording (although, of course, he’s the best thing on it). I doubt he even knew he recorded this.

Duets has some famous people on it, but not their famous voices: Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, and Barbara Streisand all take their turns trying to challenge the Godfather of Non-Soul, and all are summarily knocked out of the park (even by this somnambulant Sinatra). Then there are the ones that I would only advise you to listen to if you had to choose between that or nothing but blaring train accidents for the rest of your life: Gloria Estefan, Carly Simon, and Liza Minnelli. It’s like the Last Supper of people I don’t care about (Hint: Minnelli = Judas) except instead of Jesus, there’s an old narcissist. The arrangements are tepid, tedious, and remarkably similar to one another, the cadences of Nelson Riddle’s original hits falling alternately to aggravating vamping and piercing monotony. The best of the worst is saved for last.

On “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Bono actually thinks he’s in some Weimar cabaret. No, I mean seriously. He actually thought falsetto and panting was a good idea. Then there’s Kenny G’s “One For My Baby.” If there are any typos in this review, it’s cause I ripped out my eyes listening to this. I was so disconcerted by the terror, I thought my eyes were my ear canals. There was blood everywhere. And it was still prettier than this song.

Oh, and then they released Duets 2, which is basically the same concept, except the big stars on this one are Jon Secada, Jimmy Buffet, Neil Diamond, and Linda Rondstadt. Why didn’t they call me up to record with Sinatra?! At least I know, unlike some people (coughRonstadtcough) there’s a note called C! I did actually listen to this album, but I can’t write about it for Candyman reasons. The more I utter its terrible name, the more likely it will slash my neck. All I’ll say is that putting Secada with Sinatra is like forcing Bach to record with Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera. Everyone is mystified; Bach is dead.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt