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Neil Sedaka: The Real Neil (new album) (Review)

Sun Oct 21, 2012 9:51 pm

Having seen Sedaka in London last week, it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy of his new album, which contains 15 tracks with just Sedaka, his piano and his own backing vocals, plus the CD premiere of his "concerto". The CD consists largely of new material and is, to be fair, a hit and miss affair. Sedaka doesn't sound any older and his strong vocals and fine piano playing is what holds this uneven CD together.

Some of the new songs are superb. "Beginning to Breathe Again" is rather cloying in its lyrical content and is a strange hybrid between a love song and "I've Gotta Be Me". "You" is vintage Sedaka, and finds him very much in "The Miracle Song" mode. The melody of the chorus soars and the song is finely written even if it is somewhat old-fashioned. Meanwhile, "Broken Street of Dreams" is as good a song as Sedaka has ever written. It would have been a great piece of material for Sinatra and one could imagine Liza Minnelli standing against a piano giving the song the world-weary performance that would set it off so well. It is the highlight of the vocal part of the album.

Another fine song is "Heart of Stone" which shows that Sedaka is still a great writer of pop songs when he puts his mind to it. One could imagine a recording by any number of boy bands and Sedaka's recording with his own overdubbed harmonies acts more as a demo as to how the song would sound rather than a fully-realised recording in itself. Other songs, such as "Mi Amor" are instantly forgettable, "Captured By Your Love" sounds distinctly second-hand and "Sweet Music" finds Sedaka bemoaning the fact that he can't understand what rappers are singing. Singing this song as one of his encores on stage last week he refered to it as a "bit of fluff", which is a fair estimate of its worth but, unusually for Sedaka, there is no big melody to hook the listener with.

A nice touch is the revival of two obscure songs Sedaka wrote with the great Howard Greenfield who passed away in the mid-1980s. These find the singer firmly in the doo-wop mode that made him famous and the songs "Queen of Hearts" and "Everybody Knows" work suprisingly well with just the piano, Sedaka and his own harmonies.

Sadly there are some bad judgement calls on the CD. Sedaka gives a spoken word introduction to the album which seems somewhat redundant considering he says basically the same thing in the liner notes. There are also three re-recordings of hits: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Laughter In The Rain and Amarillo. Breaking Up is given a unique performance switching from the slow version to the fast version and back again. Laughter In The Rain is the only track that betrays any sign of aging in Sedaka's voice. It sounds surprisingly rough around the edges, and the new recording adds nothing new. Amarillo also seems remarkably redundant, and is hardly a song to sing with just the minimum of accompaniment. What's more, Sedaka's rather strange asides during these three songs are really bad misfires. In Amarillo he shouts at us to "show me, show me" - but we have no idea what we're meant to show him, and in all three of these songs he encourages us to sing along with him. While this might work on stage, or even when shouting to a bound, but with just a guy and a piano it just really sounds somewhat odd.

The orchestral track, lasting nearly twenty minutes, is remarkably likeable and is a Gershwinian ode to Manhattan. It's hardly cutting edge or even that original, but it's still a great achievement for Sedaka who plays the solo piano part with great style and is ably supported by the Philharmonia Orchestra.

No-one can expect an album of new songs from someone as prolific as Sedaka to be all great. one feels that he writes songs by their hundreds in the hope that if you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will stick. To be fair, roughly a third of the new songs on the album plus the classical piece is really good material, and another couple of songs pass muster. It is really with the re-recordings of the three hits where the album really falls down - re-recordings of more obscure songs would have worked better as demonstrated by the two doo-wop numbers from way back when.

But Sedaka is in good voice, and the album is nicely produced. Perhaps most importantly, five or six of these songs were performed last week in the concert and after just one hearing they continue to bounce around in your head - and that's a damned good sign of a finely crafted pop song if ever there was one.

Re: Neil Sedaka: The Real Neil (new album) (Review)

Mon Oct 22, 2012 12:18 am

Good review -- I'm enjoying The Real Neil very much, especially Broken Street of Dreams and Heart of Stone. His voice is still quite wonderful; tremendously rich with character and still one of the most lilting in all of popular music. As a pianist, he's brilliant -- and as a composer, just wonderful, and his Manhattan Intermezzo is a complete and utter joy. I'm such a fan of George Gershwin, and although this is wholly Neil Sedaka, shades of Gershwin clearly infiltrate the mood and feeling achieved here. This has quickly become one of my favourite pieces of music in some years. Overall, The Real Neil does misfire in places, but this concerto is very special and stands alone for me. It's quite a Brill album . . .

Re: Neil Sedaka: The Real Neil (new album) (Review)

Mon Oct 22, 2012 12:46 am

greystoke wrote:Good review -- I'm enjoying The Real Neil very much, especially Broken Street of Dreams and Heart of Stone. His voice is still quite wonderful; tremendously rich with character and still one of the most lilting in all of popular music. As a pianist, he's brilliant -- and as a composer, just wonderful, and his Manhattan Intermezzo is a complete and utter joy. I'm such a fan of George Gershwin, and although this is wholly Neil Sedaka, shades of Gershwin clearly infiltrate the mood and feeling achieved here. This has quickly become one of my favourite pieces of music in some years. Overall, The Real Neil does misfire in places, but this concerto is very special and stands alone for me. It's quite a Brill album . . .


In a sense it's a shame he didn't just go for it and create an album of orchestral music - the opening symphony-style piece from last week's concert, Joie de Vivre was, I think, just as good as the concerto on the album, albeit less Sedaka-like and more serious. It really would have created a buzz I think had Sedaka gone the whole hog and created an entire classical CD, and perhaps kick-started a revival of his material outside of the fandom.

Re: Neil Sedaka: The Real Neil (new album) (Review)

Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:47 pm

He's doing good for 73 years old hope he is around many more classic artist.