BMG Rights Management [Release date 16.06.17]
Albert Hammond’s ‘In Symphony’ is an impressive reminder of the durability of orchestral pop. It’s a glance back to the late 60′s, when seamlessly orchestrated melodic pop was given precedence by the likes of George Martin, John Barry, Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson.
In the interim, the enduring appeal of the music has rarely wavered, albeit it it’s never made much commercial sense.
Artists such as Scott Walker found their work critically re-appraised, while the made-to-measure Boston Pops Orchestra continued the musical crossover, before the later Lounge Music revival and the 90s Ork-Pop scene took off.
Cue, Albert Hammond, he of the 30 chart topping hits and 360million record sales fame, and a singer-songwriter for whom the power of a melody and the song writing process continues to fire his enthusiasm.
And given the above context, what better time for him to have persuaded BMG to release an orchestrated version of his core back catalogue?
This is a man who has dominated multiple chart genres and crossed over from the English to the burgeoning Spanish market. Examples of both are to be found on ‘In Symphony’, an album that demands much of his own performance and a leap of faith from fans more used to 3 minute pop song.
So what are we to make of a project that sees a pop maestro team up with the combined might of The London Session Orchestra, the London Voice Choir and The Trinity School Boys Choir?
The answer lies in Albert’s own sterling vocal performance. It’s one thing to pen memorable cross-generational songs, but it’s another to put yourself in the orchestral spotlight.
A project like this demands a strong vocalist, because unless you are a dramatic, eclectic figure like Richard Harris, there’s nowhere to hide.
Albert admirably rises to the occasion, as his sometimes weathered timbre serves him well in terms of exploring feel, nailing real emotion and bringing presence to bear on his own material.
He phrases expansively to emphasize lyrical meaning and he consistently gets inside the songs with real passion.
There’s a telling moment on the ‘One Moment In Time’ medley, when he pushes himself out of his comfort zone to lead the choir into an enveloping finale, that is everything you imagine he’d hoped an orchestra and choir could bring to his songs.
The choice of material is mostly predictable, though despite a liner note credit, there is no ’99 Miles from LA’. For the most part the dozen songs works perfectly in terms of representing his dual language catalogue and in finding a workable equilibrium that lends itself to the album’s free flowing feel.
With the exception of Manuel Ponce’s emotive, but challenging ‘Estrellita’, nothing sounds forced or out of place as Hammond’s melodic sensibility carries him forward, while his vocals become more confident throughout the project.
On the closing ‘The Air That I Breathe’ he’s simply inspirational, suggesting that when he first thought about this orchestral project he saw a potential that we didn’t.
He opens with ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’, which retains the flute intro of the original, but makes an earlier use of strings and benefits from the choral presence on the hook.
The uplifting feel of the outro is carried though an album that always pays particular attention to melodic detail and his song craft in general.
The frivolous, yet rhythmically compelling ’I'm A Train’ finds a new lease of life in orchestral form. A trumpet section and strings add weight to the piece and he retains the playful essence of the song with some faux laughter.
There’s a similar attention to detail on shuffle drum intro and horn arrangement of the Carrib flavoured ‘Give A Little Love’ , on which the hook draws the listener in.
The Spanish ballad ‘Alejate’ and ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’ are a glance back at the 60′s balladeer era. And such is the confidence of his phrasing that he manages to convey the feel of the former even though it’s sung in Spanish.
The latter is a subtle orchestrated piece on which makes another emotional connection and the orchestra adds poise.
The sugary strings of ‘Estrellita’ take the retro feel to the point of parody, while the lead vocal simply grates, before Albert duets and hits a resonate note on the outro.
The sweeping ballad of ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’ lifts the album as a whole and there’s no denying the heartfelt message of the line: ”I shine like a candle in the dark, when you tell me you love me”. The segued ‘One Moment In Time’ suggests he was unsure about whether to playlist another slow song on its own. but the towering ballad is another album highlight.
‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ is the only rock song on the album and is anchored by a big drum sound and makes good use of fleeting strings and a big chorus.
The annoyingly familiar ‘Don’t Turn Around’ is even better and is the kind of song that Wet Wet Wet dominated the mid 90′s with, while the orchestration cleverly evokes the lyrical meaning.
The autobiographical ‘The Free Electric Band’ is given an extra lift by a double horn and string intro, while Rob Mathes’ arrangement bring extra vitality.
Hammond saves his best for last, on the beautifully arranged ‘The Air That I Breathe’, a song that embodies the essential elements of his songcraft as it moves towards a booming chorus on a stunning arrangement .
‘In Symphony’ celebrates the enduring quality of Albert Hammond’s songs and his role as a fine balladeer. It’s a triumph of planning and execution that would surely have made George Martin smile. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
Album launch (March, 2017)
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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