The Movie Songbook
42:54 min • Island • March 1st, 2010
Fresh from her first solo endeavour, the cruelly underrated Melody, Sharleen Spiteri has ventured from Texas to Hollywood for her sophomore album, The Movie Songbook. Essentially conceived out of a low-key invitation to sing The Bee Gees’ ‘If I Can’t Have You’ at a Saturday Night Fever tribute concert, this project saw Spiteri record the album in a mere 8 days at the legendary Capitol Records Studios in Los Angeles, under the production of the iconic Phil Malone, whose CV boasts Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Barbara Streisand. The self-confessed film aficionado has created a tribute album that reinterprets not only some huge cinematic songs, but also a smattering of understated movie gems.
The album bursts onto the scene with a colossal rendition of ‘Xanadu’, that has already been backed by a sharp advertising tie-in with Heart FM, leaving many to wonder who the mystery vocalist is. The song suits Spiteri’s vocal range perfectly and alone should surely catapult her back into the mainstream and revive some well-deserved interest in this talented musician from the outskirts of Glasgow. The ‘70s disco feel remains the blueprint for her rendition of ‘If I Can’t Have You’ and it’s interesting that this song was the catalyst for the projec as it is not one of the stand-out tracks. It possibly suffers due to the sheer volume of karaoke-lite versions already released by other artists.
Even on the opening two tracks we get a sense that Spiteri is out of her comfort zone, but in an undeniably good way. Known best for her soulful, Motown-esque sound, what emerges from this record is her most diverse work concerning musical styles. She embraces disco, folk, jazz, country, bossa-nova and rockabilly, as well as her trademark ‘60s soul, highlighted wonderfully on ‘Between The Bars’ with a touching, gentle vocal that more than resonates with the original from Good Will Hunting.
She has proven with this album that she can more than handle formerly unexplored territory. The incredible, aching vocal on ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’ is the perfect foreground for the bossa-nova beat underpinning the track. Similarly, Spiteri nails the required elements on the jazzy number ‘God Bless The Child’ with a soothing, heartfelt interpretation that evokes both Diana Ross and Billie Holliday.
The album’s Academy Award is irrefutably the folky interpretation of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound Of Silence’. The track begins with a stripped, poignant vocal that builds into a lush crescendo of harmonies that equals, if not betters, the spine-tingling effect of the haunting original, not least due to Spiteri’s bravado in rendering such an immense song.
Nominations are also laden upon the sensual, jazz balladry of ‘This One’s From The Heart’ and the playful rockabilly transformation of ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’, which is light years away from Giorgio Moroder and David Bowie’s original and has a real Tarantino feel.
The albums only misstep is the chaotic ‘What’s New Pussycat?’, although this proves the perfect vehicle for Spiteri to toy with notions of sexual ambiguity; these are far more salient in her sterling, opulent version of ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’.
The album’s closer materialises like a twist of M Night Shayamalan proportions, with a beautiful and deft country and western mash-up of ‘Take My Breath Away’ from Top Gun and ‘Everybody’s Talking’ from Midnight Cowboy. Lowering the octave and accelerating the track works wonderfully here and forms one of the album’s biggest successes.
In less experienced and talented hands, this could have been a covers-album-by-numbers, churned out just in time for Mother’s Day, but Spiteri has pulled it off in spectacular fashion. Her passion for not only music, but also film shines through on what is undeniably her most varied work.