New albums by two survivors: One is a face-lift, the other a comeback. Of the two, Andy Williams’ face-lift is preferable. Actually, Solitaire isn’t an Andy Williams album at all but a Richard Perry album with Andy sitting in as vocalist. Perry is a commercial genius, worth the price for anyone who can afford his cosmetic services. The brilliant formula production he perfected with Carly Simon’s No Secrets has been delivered to Williams with only minor and conservative custom alterations.
The quality of sound Perry can produce is frightening. It is cold and glamorous in its corporate calculation, flexible enough to embrace the entire pop mainstream. Voices — Nilsson’s, Streisand’s, Simon’s — through electronic manipulation, become perfect technological artifacts, and every song a potential hit single.
So it is with Solitaire‘s ten cuts, which include spacious renditions of “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “Remember,” “Last Tango in Paris” and “My Love.” On all of them Andy’s voice glows with a sheen and assurance it didn’t seem to have even 15 years ago. The pinnacle is the title cut, by Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody. It has the melodic strength, opulence and percussive force (Perry’s strongest trump card) to be a monster on the order of “Without You” and “You’re So Vain.” Behind all the glitter, however, Andy Williams’ singing is as bland as ever. He is Mr. Relaxation for Mr. and Mrs. America and will probably have custody of that institution for a few more years — most certainly if he continues to hang out with Perry and his illustrious sidemen.
Sinatra’s agonized comeback is a different kettle of fish. Who would have thought that the most perfect bel canto tenor of the Forties and respected stylist of the Fifties could fall so low? The history of The Voice is the history of The American Dream gone sour, its remains licentiousness and decay, grasping and faltering. The famous phrasing is hesitant, as though there were no more breath, or even air. The pitch is flat and the high notes desperate.
The album is supposed to showcase the talents of Sinatra’s new fave writer, Joe Raposo of Sesame Street, who composed four of its nine songs. What a disservice. There is no way of evaluating them since they are taken at a snail’s pace and bellowed with a patriarchal grandiosity that is grotesque. Don Costa’s slushy production only makes matters worse. Dismayingly, Gordon Jenkins, who provided such beautiful arrangements for Nilsson’s Little Touch, didn’t apply his celebrated trademark to the six arrangements here for which he is credited.
In the last Billie Holiday records, though the voice was gone, more so than Sinatra’s today, her style and phrasing remained relatively intact, and we knew she was singing for life, even for God. Sinatra sounds as though he were singing for Agnew and, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “a thousand lost golf balls.”