[6 April 2009]
This hurts to write, but the new Petula Clark compilation of 21 love songs sucks. It’s hard to imagine anyone who would want to listen to the disc more than once. The song selection is weak, the performances uninspired, and the production cloying. Speaking personally, I would rather listen to the noise of the house squeaking and plumbing sounds than to play this disc again. There is little to recommend here. And that is truly sad, because Clark is a major English talent with lots of charm and pop hits in her past. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, she is the most successful British solo recording artist in history and has sold more than 70 million records worldwide. Hopefully, most people won’t purchase this.
Clark is best known to American audiences for winning a Grammy Award for “Downtown” as Best Rock and Roll Song in 1964, the year the Beatles broke big in the states. This win was considered proof of how out of touch the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) was by choosing her over the other big acts who released important records that year. But the truth is, “Downtown” is a great pop song. It was recently inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
And “Downtown” was not Clark’s best record of the era. She recorded a slew of gorgeous pop rock hits in the year that followed, like “I Know a Place”, “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”, “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love”, Color My World”, and many others. Nor was “Downtown” her first hit record. She began her career as a child star in England during the Second World War and had a number of hits in England during the ‘50s and early ‘60s. She was a seasoned star in her mid-thirties when “Downtown” made her an international superstar.
But the 21 tracks on this collection, originally recorded between 1972 and the present, show little of the magic that made her so popular. Many of these tracks were previously unreleased for good reason. They just aren’t very good. Much of this is due to the substandard material, which Clark again is somewhat to blame for, as she wrote some of the songs here, including the ridiculously shrill “Super Loving Lady”. Clark sounds as if she is trying to become the next Dusty Springfield, but she far from succeeds. Clark is no soul singer. She sings best when she plays to her strengths as a pop performer. Her explorations into different musical styles generally fail.
The best songs here are literally the best songs: covers of well-known numbers that Clark simply offers in her own light and breezy style. She offers a light rendition of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” and a pleasant, if non-descript version of Noel Stookey’s “Wedding Song (There Is Love).” The 70-year-old Clark performs Queen’s “These are the Days of Our Lives” from the perspective of an old woman looking back at life, suggesting she knows her best days have passed her by.
Too much of the rest here can be easily dismissed as pabulum at best. Clark’s greatest hits contain many wonderful love songs. Just think of her big hit “My Love”, which begins so brightly with the lines, “My love is warmer than the warmest sunshine / softer than a sigh / My love is deeper than the deepest ocean / wider than the sky.” Bask in its glow rather than listen to the dreck on this album.