Sunday, 26 January 2014

CD Review: Somewhere in the Audience

“You feel the urge, you think you can't help it"

Eric Woolfson may be better known as the creator, songwriter and lyricist of The Alan Parsons Project but as a writer of musical theatre, in the great tradition of David Hasselhoff, he was big in Germany (and other parts of Europe and Asia). He passed away in 2009 but a compilation of music from four of his musicals – Gaudi, Gambler, Poe and Dancing Shadows – has been put together with the hope of resuscitating interest in his work either side of the Atlantic.

Somewhere in the Audience is a curious CD – on first listen, one is smacked over the head with the dated feel of the material. Not necessarily in a bad way but rather that the arrangements are so definitively of their time (the late 80s and 90s) that they distract from everything else. Take a number like Too Late – sung with charisma and verve by Tim Howar, Louise Dearman and James Fox, it has a magnificently stirring drive to its structure but given the arrangement it gets here, it calls to mind a Central European power pop number with a jerky shoulder dance routine. 

His balladry is strong (and naturally old-school) – Pia Douwes shines beautifully on both Tiny Star and Far Away, and What Kind of World is sung sensitively by Jacqui Dankworth. Howar and Dearman join forces again to great effect on Parca Guell, and If I Could Write The Book of Life finds its gentle groove in the simplest of pop melodies, Steve Balsamo and Anna-Jane Casey crooning nicely together . 

Woolfson’s gift for songwriting is beyond reproach (Eye in the Sky remains one of my favourite songs ever) but in order for it to gain a foothold here, a radical rethink to its presentation is necessary. That said, there is something of the guilty pleasure about the driving pop of Sharon D Clarke’s Forbidden Fruit and Oliver Tompsett and Jon Lee’s duet on Golden Key, delightfully retro and naff in the best sense of the word. But give me piano and strings versions of these songs and I reckon Woolfson could yet make his mark in theatres here.

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