(5 / 5)
After seven decades of hits – 70 albums and around 140 million record sales – Britain’s most successful female artist of all time, Dame Shirley Bassey, today drops what was flagged as her last ever album, by her label Decca.
So can the 83-year-old great-grandmother Diva still belt out the power ballads? Does her voice still cut it on the 14 songs, new and old, on “I Owe It All To You?”
You better believe it. Words such as “epic”, “stunning”, “a triumph” and “sensational” are justified. Trust me!
Recording sessions took place summer 2020 in London, Prague, Monaco (where she resides) and the South of France – with her team operating under the relevant travel and recording restrictions.
Faultlessly produced by three-time Grammy winner and eight-time Classical Brit award winner for ‘Best Album’, Nick Patrick (Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, Seal, Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli).
The 14-song set opens with a four-minute orchestral overture, aptly called “Overture”. Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever”, suggested to the dynamic Dame by her pal, Queen drummer Roger Taylor, opens the album proper.
A real showstopper and inspired choice for the superstar singer. Dramatic and Bond-theme-like. She eats it up and makes it her own. The arrangement with lush strings and her incredible vocal power at the age of 83, make this a breathtaking start to this supposed finale album.
The title track, “I Owe It All To You” works well and as per usual when the Welsh wonder takes on a song to sing, she inhabits the lyrics and connects with the emotion and makes us believe every word.
Written for her by Don Black who penned “Diamonds Are Forever”, the iconic Bond theme she sang in 1971. She also sang the title tracks to “Goldfinger” in 1964 and “Moonraker” in 1979.
The jazz/big band standard, “Almost Like Being In Love” is her tribute to the late Sir Bruce Forsyth. Shirley can deliver this kind of song in her sleep, but the band really are fabulous.
“Maybe This Time” is another snug-fit song style for the Dame, and a song she has yearned to record throughout her career. Written in 1964 for actress Kaye Ballard, it was adopted by Liza Minelli in the film “Cabaret” and on two of her albums.
“I made It Through The Rain” sends a message to her fans: “This song lyrically talks about our everyday struggles emotionally. I feel like this song has a positive message for people, especially here and now. Its ever more important to know that things will be ok and we will make it through, don’t lose yourself”.
The song was a hit for Barry Manilow, originally recorded in 1979 by its co-writer Gerard Kenny who composed it with Drey Shepperd, about a struggling musician who never gives up.
Young Welsh girl Shirley Bassey started her own career in the working men’s clubs, pubs and miner’s social clubs throughout Wales in the 1950s, while working in a factory before her first # 1 hit.
“Adagio” is sizzling. First recorded as an orchestral instrumental piece in 1957, composed by Remo Giazotto and Tomaso Albinoni and lyrics later added by Lara Fabian in 1999. Another emotionally stirring vocal performance that would surely bring the house down sung live on stage in front of thousands. Shivers up and down the spine, guaranteed.
An absolute crossover banger next and my favourite of the 14. “Look But Don’t Touch”. This could do for Dame Shirley what the killer pop cuts “History Repeating” and “Get The Party Started” did for her career back in 1997 and 2007 respectively.
Opening doors to a new younger audience, not to forget her still-talked-about stunning televised performance in the “Legends” spot at Glastonbury Festival in 2007. This track is bloody awesome. It’s got that feel good, fun vibe that Kirsty MacColl created so well with “What In These Shoes?”, that fitted so well into the film “Kinky Boots”.
“Look But Don’t Touch” has that 60s “Go-Go” feel to it, and it screams out “HIT” to me. The band sound loud and rambunctious, the drummer is really on it. Shirley’s vocal gorgeously playful. There’s even a jazzy organ solo. Dame Shirley says she could not stop dancing while recording this song. “We were all having our own little studio party”.
But it was niggling away at me which song this nods to, and after many plays, I could not place it. At the end of writing this review, it came to me. “Music To Watch Girls By”, the Andy Williams hit from 1967. Yep, that’s it. Have a listen, here:
Charlie Chaplin’s timeless “Smile” is a very nice way to spend four minutes and 14 seconds of your day, or evening. But is Ms. B giving us a clue that despite the marketing and PR straplines about this being her farewell album, fan fave “You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet”, is the message she wants us all to go away with?
“I Don’t Know What Love Is”, another song ready-made for this Dame. She delivers a lovely version of the song Willie Nelson and Elvis had hits with, “Always On My Mind”, a personal favourite of Ms. Bassey’s and a very decent cover.
Penultimate cut, “I Was Here”, is a song that hit Dame Shirley between the ears when she first heard it, and she believes it perfectly captures the sentiment of the album. “This song blew me away.
“It picked me up, swirled me around and then at the end left me speechless. Every word in this song is how I feel. Hoping that somehow in my life through my words and through my music, I made a difference to someone’s life. That my footprints will forever stay”. I believe she has nothing to worry about, on that score.
The album closes with the brilliant John Miles’ track, “Music Is My First Love”. A solid version and the perfect finale to what really is a stunning and epic collection of performances. A triumph. Sensational. Yes, I know I am repeating myself here….
No way can she hang up the posh frocks just yet, with pipes like hers that singers a fraction of her age would give a limb or two for. In her native language, I say: Rhoi un arall i ni, Shirl’. (Google it!)
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’