A glass of Pimms, exposed red flesh and Andy Williams in the background at your parents’ barbie: the English summer before the sunny optimism of the traditional three-day heatwave is replaced by storms and drought warnings. If anyone can take your mind off the grey skies Andy can with his defiant optimism, even when wallowing in the sadness of Solitaire.
But if you think the ageing King of Lounge is for the blue rinse brigade only, his latest compilation Music To Watch Girls Go By proves you wrong. The crooner may sing with a smile not a sneer, but his songs are of a calibre Noel Gallagher can only dream of and are sung with a deftness and musicality rarely found in recent versions by such as Robbie Williams (definitely no relation) or Rod Stewart.
The CD is jam packed with classics, many of which feature in movie soundtracks – Moon River, Born Free, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, The Streets Where You Live. And they’re by the Titans of songwriting – Burt Bacharach, Lerner and Lowe, Henry Mancini, Crewe and Gaudio, Carson Parks, Zaret and North. Their filmic appeal is obvious: emotionally accessible, they sum up a myriad of moments.
Music To Watch Girls By kicks off the 26-track CD with jolly romping guitar and brass section, it is as uptempo as a Tampa spring. The mood changes with Can’t Get Used To Losing You and the lilting melody of Moon River. Though there are plenty of happy clappy numbers – Up, Up and Away, Aquarius and It’s So Easy – it is the ballads that shine thanks to Williams’ velvet glove of a voice – rarely has a broken heart sounded so enticing.
Underscoring the warmth of Williams’ vocalisations are tightly orchestrated arrangements, with hallmark lush strings and backing singers of the big hair, crimpelene frocks and the town’s supply of mascara variety. The insistent chirpiness of the backing lends an unexpected edge to songs of such sweet wistfulness as We’ve Only Just Begun and Born Free, turning them into a soundtrack for brave faces: sad sack Bridget Jones stuck in on a Saturday night or Annette Bening amid marital breakdown in American Beauty.
Williams for all his innocuousness can make the heart soar, no better than on Born Free and the angry entreaty of I Think I Love You, which replaces the adolescent desire of David Cassidy‘s original with something more substantial – a mature man trapped by love.
There is a strong element of kitsch in the collection, especially on the racier tracks Spooky and The House of Bamboo, both of which should have been left in the vault. But these are minor mistakes on a collection that easily blows away the clouds and makes one feel happy, even when wallowing in an English summer.