I am not a Paul Anka fan. I am not a Swing fan. I do like Rock. When I saw Paul Anka’s new Rock Swings CD, I was ready for something awful and treacly. I was kindly surprised to find an album more innovative and infectious than disappointing.
It’s My Life
This is the first song on the album and it rocks and swings at the same time. Anka brings a tough-guy swagger to this Bon Jovi classic. The trumpets scream. Anka screams. We all scream together! Listen to this song with headphones cranked all the way up so you can enjoy the punch and sophistication of the incredible orchestration. Anka sings with an infectious smile!
This cover of the Spandau Ballet original feels a little muddy. Anka saves it with his clear voice and funky interpretation of the lyric but we expect more here from a smoky orchestration that leaves ashes, not inspiration, behind.
Eye of the Tiger
This song was a dud when it was originally released and Anka’s Fifties creeping-stylization is lukewarm and rather odd.
This haunting REM song gets a 70’s coolish, Burt Bacharach, makeover and it works because Anka yearns with the song. He plucks the same tune as REM but the lyric is so fine we can find texture and meaning on our own.
This Oasis cover is a jazzy, syncopated, mess! Instead of being amazed and amazing, Anka becomes hushed, but falsely energetic. That not only misinterprets this haunting song but the orchestration murders any good intent or spark of inspiration with overzealous, bassy, strings.
This is a really interesting song lyrically and Anka calms down a bit to add some gravel and intuition to the song beyond its original version. The orchestration is melodic and quiet and Anka is allowed to present the simple words to us.
It’s a Sin
We return to a Burt Bacharach style orchestration here and it makes the song feel dated. When Anka gets wispy instead of earnest we quickly press the “next” button and move on to the next song.
This Van Halen cover borders on Anka parodying himself and the entire CD. The orchestration is thumpy, and brightly brassy, and Anka is cocky, and self-assured. He pulls off the song with tremendous success using an effective Frank Sinatra “My Way” pretentiousness.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Again, Anka toys with borderline ridiculousness here with his cover of the infamous Nirvana song about teenage angst. With a high-power, always energetic, singing style and pulsating jazz bass line, Anka delivers the goods. You’ll never hear the annoying “Hello, Hello, Hello, How Low?” delivered in such a cool-cat manner elsewhere. This is one of the best songs on the CD.
The cover of this Lionel Ritchie original is stale and predictable. We would expect Anka to cover a Ritchie tune so there’s no surprise, and no roiling fun, found here. This is one of the worst songs on the CD.
Eyes Without a Face
Anka’s cover of this Billy Idol tune is as run-of-the-mill and it sounds, several times, as if Anka is yawning in boredom on words ending with an open-mouthed voweling.
This is the one song where I didn’t recognize the original. As a song on its own it is the worst of the lot. Anka is disconnected here on this swingy song and the orchestration is ordinary.
The Way You Make Me Feel
This Michael Jackson tune gets a fine cover by Anka because it is jangling and jumping and always surprising. Anka is cocksure again and in his element as trumpets squeal and wah-wah and the piano tinkles down our leg! There is a sexual tension and a manly dynamism here that works well. The song is structurally quite good and, like him or not, you must tip your hat to Michael Jackson for authoring such a fine song.
Tears in Heaven
Eric Clapton’s ode to his dead four-year-old son Connor was an instant classic the day it was written. You know a song is a classic when it is instrumentally recorded without voice and it still has the emotional punch of the original. Classic songs are centered on melody and that’s why much of rap music today will not have a sustained life beyond the original because rap music, in the realm of the instrumental-only melodic conceit, doesn’t have everlasting human appeal that can sustain adaptation across musical genres.
Most of the Tears in Heaven covers are instrumental and many of those instrumental covers have a saxophone taking the lead voice. Anka’s cover is touching and beautiful. He feels the pain of the song. He does not run from the emotion of a tribute to a dead child. He cries and we cry with him and that is the mark of a great artist. Paul Anka cements his hard-earned greatness with this simple, plain, and unforgettable song that is the best piece of magic on the entire CD.
Paul Anka’s Rock Swings is a terrific CD because it is more daring than dull in the overall view. You will find many great pleasures and moments of shared insight. Get a copy. Put on the headphones. Take an emotional swing with Anka in your ears.