Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I adore Sharleen Spiteri, and I love that the Texas frontwoman has the musical taste of a gay man. But I wish that she'd man up and go way out on a limb more often.

Her predilection toward safeness is especially problematic on her second solo album, The Movie Songbook, a concept that already has been done to death (excellent cover, though). I've always said that covers albums need to be extra original, even more so than albums with all new material, lest they come across as redundant and superfluous.

Why go for the obvious when the obscure will take you so much farther creatively? Annie Lennox toyed with our expectations so well on Medusa, her 1995 album of remakes, and the result was one of my favorite -- if not my favorite -- covers albums ever.

With a few exceptions -- "Take Me With You" from Purple Rain, "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" from Cat People, and an Elliott Smith song from Good Will Hunting -- Sharleen, played it mostly safe in her song choices. Luckily, her always-stellar vocals elevate the material as do the occasionally fresh arrangements. But If I were her adviser, I'd have let her stick with the same movies while picking different songs. Here are a few of my ideas.

Song Xanadu
Film Xanada
Not only is Olivia Newton-John's version iconic, but she had the added benefit of ELO as her backing band. Without them, Sharleen's version falls a bit flat. She should have gone with "All Over the World," an ELO Xanadu track that may have been a Top 10 hit, but it's also a forgotten one. Not enough contemporary musicians cover ELO.

Song "If I Can't Have You"
Film Saturday Night Fever
Question: Chartwise, what was the biggest hit single from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack? Not "Staying Alive." Not "How Deep Is Your Love." If you guessed the title cut, "Night Fever" by Bee Gees, which spent eight weeks at No. 1, you would be right. But amazingly, my favorite hit from the album is probably also the one with the lowest profile, and only a voice as elastic as Sharleen's could fully do it justice.

Song "Oh, Pretty Woman"
Film Pretty Woman
I guess it could have been worse. She could have gone for the all too obvious: Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love," which already sort of sounds like a Sharleen song. For the record, I really love Sharleen's sexy, slowburning, Duffy-esque take on the Roy Orbison classic (though Van Halen's 1982 cover remains, for me, the definitive version). But if Sharleen had really wanted to take it to the limit, she would have given Robert Palmer's "Life In Detail" or even Go West's super-dated "King Of Wishful Thinking" a go.

Song "Take My Breath Away"
Film Top Gun
Sharleen's spaghetti western-esque reading of the Berlin hit is certainly not what I expected, but I'd pay money to hear someone, anyone, take on Kenny Loggins's all-but-forgotten "Danger Zone." Takers?
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