Rhythm & Views

Paul Anka

Singer and songwriter Paul Anka's newest recording features songs we all know in their original form--Van Halen's "Jump," R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts"--but what Anka has done is lounged them up, and lounged most of them up right.

The songs that work best as swing numbers are the songs that have a simple premise, rely on melody and don't have too many "I" statements--the songs with universal classic pop elements, regardless of instrumentation and arrangement. Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" sounds here like it could have been written for a musical--when Anka sings, "Don't want to live forever, just want to live while I'm alive," as the horns crescendo, it becomes even more of an epilogue to Sinatra's "My Way." One-hit wonder Spandau Ballet's "True" is snap-your-fingers fabulous with a full jazz band; instead of breathy dramatics, we get Anka slowly speak-singing, "I know this much is true."

Sadly, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Black Hole Sun" don't really work out of their rock context, although they are amusing. Anka's arrangements add gusto and understatement in different places than the original versions, which can change a song immensely, sometimes for the better. Oasis' "Wonderwall" loses its rock-ballad dramatics and becomes '50s street-gangster campy. Anka mellows out Van Halen's "Jump," so that by the chorus, it has taken on an indifferent lounge-swagger: "Knock yourself out, baby," Anka says. The Cure's "Lovecats," though, maintains its sultry jazziness, and "Tears in Heaven" is just as weepy as Clapton would want it. Some rock just swings better than others, even if the guy who wrote The Tonight Show theme song is swinging it.

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