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!

True
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.

Everybody Hurts
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.

Wonderwall
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.

Blackhole Sun
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.

Jump
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.

Hello
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.

Lovecats
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.

12 Comments

  1. Good review although the more negatives than positives in your song-by-song made it a surprise that you reccommended it so whole-heartedly at the end. I was already going to buy it based solely on his performance on Letterman which blew me away and made me glad I hadn’t changed channels which I almost did being more of a metal fan than one of a guy I assumed was trying to make a quick cash grab. Black hole sun has always been a favourite of mine and the fact that it’s on here is not only a huge bonus but testimony to the fact that Anka has a great ear for timeless music in any genre. Being a Canadian it also makes me proud that one of our legendary talents still has a trick or two up his sleeve! I want to see this performed live now!

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  2. Hello Dave!
    Well, I think a single song on an album can mean one should buy the whole thing. I don’t see the songs as a percentage-to-buy or not ratio and the good songs on Anka’s album outweigh the bad by far even if there are numerically more bad songs. 🙂
    As well, I happened upon his Letterman performance last night and thought it rather awful and if I had heard THAT version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” first I never would have purchased the CD.
    He started off in the hole when he messed up the first line of the song. Instead of saying “Load up on guns and bring your friends” he said something like “Umph, bring guns, bring friends” and Anka, as a well-seasoned superstar, knew that killer first line is the whole heart of the song and by blundering the setup he created a big problem dynamically and dramatically from which he never fully recovered.
    You could tell at the end of the show he was disappointed in his performance. He didn’t seem comfortable with the lyric at all and it wasn’t because of subject matter, but because he didn’t memorize the words. When you get to the fantastic lines:
    A mulatto
    An albino
    A mosquito
    My Libido
    And you’re still struggling to spit out the words, you’re in trouble!

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  3. I have this album, and really think it’s great. I’m a prefessional trumpet player, and the arrangements and musicians playing are number 1.

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  4. Well, it’s hard for me to judge- because I love Anka. It would be impossible for me to say that something he did isn’t wonderful. I loved it.

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