After a career which spans seven decades, it’s undeniable that Dame Shirley Bassey has more than earned her retirement. Since she first started singing in the pubs and clubs of Wales, she’s become a iconic figure, whether it be being synonymous with James Bond themes, making the Glastonbury ‘legends’ slot her own, or enjoying an unlikely career revival with the Propellerheads in the late ’90s.
Now she’s signed to Decca for her first album in five years, and one that she’s announced will be her final record. As the title would suggest, I Owe It All To You is intended as a final ‘thank you’ to her fans, and is a mixture of new tracks written especially for her, together with songs she has chosen to represent her life and career.
So, it’s not a ‘greatest hits’ as such (there’s no sign of Goldfinger or Hey Big Spender for starters). Instead, there are old standards such as the Charlie Chaplin classic Smile, and Maybe This Time from Cabaret, together with cover versions of songs originally performed by the likes of Queen, Elvis Presley and Beyoncé.
This is, of course, firmly in the ‘easy listening’ category. Accompanied by a full orchestra on most tracks, the songs selected are designed to showcase Dame Shirley’s still impossibly impressive voice. As it’s designed specifically to appeal to long-term fans, there’s nothing too challenging and certainly no dalliances into the dance scene, such as in her Propellerheads era.
She does manage to stamp her considerable personality all over these songs though. I Don’t Know What Love Is, from the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga remake of A Star Is Born, is swooping and dramatic, while her version of Who Wants To Live Forever manages to sound even more valedictory than the original Queen version.
Those moments, and the original tracks written especially for Bassey, are the most successful moments on I Owe It All To You. Songs like Smile and Always On My Mind have been covered so frequently that they fail to make much of a mark now – it’s a similar story with Music Is My First Love, although that does make an understandable choice as a closing track.
The new tracks slip in seamlessly next to the more familiar songs: The jazzy Look But Don’t Touch is probably the best track on the record, swapping the sometimes overpowering strings for a brass section and the title track is an understandably sentimental farewell to her fans which would touch even the most cynical of hearts.
It may not be the most exciting album made, but you have to give Dame Shirley credit for going out on her own terms. There’s no career reinvention going on, nor any attempt to try to appeal to a younger market. The word ‘iconic’ may be over-used these days, but this is a classy farewell from a true icon of the musical world.