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MUSIC REVIEW (Lounge)
Paul Anka
Rock Swings


Buy it @ Amazon.com

Label: Universal Released: 6/1/2005


Paul Anka marks his 47th year in showbiz with the release of Rock Swings, following in the footsteps of Johnny Cash, who reworked rock hits on his many recent CD's (including Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode and Rusty Cage by Soundgarden among many others.)

Although Anka is world-renowned for writing a plethora of hits including Sinatra's trademark song "My Way" (referenced in Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" which is covered in this collection) and the theme from the Tonight Show, his latest outing he chooses to interpret a variety of rock and pop songs from the eighties and nineties, from Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit to Van Halen's Jump, Everybody Hurts by R.E.M. and Blackhole Sun by Soundgarden (see complete track listing below).

Anka of course is far from Cash in terms of style, and although he also interprets a song from Soundgarden, there the similarities end. Whereas producer Rick Rubin was know for stripping Cash's sound down to the basics, Alex Christensen has taken mostly guitar-driven songs and reworked them into bombastic big-band tunes and loungy ballads recorded in crystal clarity at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. The results often work but sometimes you can't help but laugh at the arrangements. Notable parts such as the cheese-laden eighties keyboard intro to Van Halen's Jump take on an almost cartoonish quality when played by big band horns, as does the James Bond meets Looney Tunes intro to Wonderwall and the strumming of the harp in Tears In Heaven. In contrast the punches of the original Eye of the Tiger are completely omitted in favour of jazzy noodlings.

The arrangements often are "creative" enough to turn the songs into something new, often barely reminiscent of the originals other than the lyrics and vocal melody, for better or worse. This treatment works better on some songs than others; REM's Everybody Hurts survives relatively intact whereas The Cure's Lovecats, which originally had a bouncy jazzy feel to it anyway and didn't need much reworking, is transformed into the Theme from The Love Boat with different words.

"I've... rearranged them with a jazz beat, added a big band sound," Anka told the New York Daily News. Although the songs were actually arranged by Randy Kerber, Patrick Williams and John Clayton. Anka also told the New York Daily News, "I've always been intrigued by these artists. They've written some powerful lyrics."

Why then, would he change the lyrics in Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit from the potent "load up on guns, bring your friends" to the castrated "load up, load up, bring your friends", and then omit the third verse completely; how about "call my name through the cream" changed to "call my name through the dream" in Black Hole Sun? Then again why leave the possibly politically incorrect "With a thrill in my head and a pill on my tongue" untouched in Spandau Ballet's "True"?

Unnamed and possibly unreliable sources say that Anka didn't know the lyrics and just read them verbatim from a page when he recorded his vocals, which would explain some of the ad libs and alterations but not all. Perhaps someone sanitized the lyrics for him, or he made some changes on the fly, but how can you say you respect a writer then change their words and thereby change the intent of the song? Without speaking to him directly it's hard to tell what the intent of the album is, whether it's a media-whoring novelty or a genuine tribute to songs Anka likes, but the album debuted in the top 10 when released in Germany and was top seller on the European Amazon web site so the appeal is undeniable, whether it is more akin to a car crash or Elvis' 1968 comeback.

So what does one make of the title, "Rock Swings"? Does it swing by its neck, from a noose, or like a groovin' teenager at the high-school hop? That is up for you to decide.

Track listing with original artist who performed the song:

Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)
Jump (Van Halen)
Everybody Hurts (R.E.M.)
Wonderwall (Oasis)
Blackhole Sun (Soundgarden)
It's My Life (Bon Jovi)
It's A Sin (Pet Shop Boys)
True (Spandau Ballet)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
Hello (Lionel Ritchie)
Eyes Without A Face (Billy Idol)
Lovecats (The Cure)
The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson)
Tears In Heaven (Eric Clapton)

Stephen Donnelly Email WWW

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