Comment: There Are Three Truly Great Frank Sinatra Albums…

April 4, 2009

Adam’s back and with spring arriving he’s brought some bossa nova…

Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (1967)

There are three truly great Frank Sinatra albums. Rockists are well aware of the first, “Songs For Swinging Lovers” (it’s no. 205 in Q magazine’s songs that “Jeremy Clarkson reads Mein Kampf too”). Friends we shall discuss that fine record again when we get to overlooked techno meisterwerks part 4. Trust me the horns pummel and stab like Derrick May’s fat fingers on his Korg whatzitmecalledit and the banter infects every Pet Shop Boys song of note.

The maudlin massive are steeped in the second “In the Wee Small Hours”. A record which foresees Burial’s “ Untrue” by five decades and distils the self loathing and minor key menace of every vital headphones only experience but which is notably absent from every big chill happy clap-a-thon chill-out-in-a-basket session. The third and the reason why we are gathered here today tugging our cufflinks, allowing only a glimpse of a slither of sleeve, is because we are here to honour the understated majesty of Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim.

In 1967 whilst twenty people were expanding/losing their minds whilst casting aside all strictures of the square society (other than the requirements of their trust funds), Frank Sinatra entered the studio with Antonio Carlos Jobim and ran through the Brazilian sugar spun songbook and three other American standards in two days.

From the assured take on “The Girl From Ipanema” and over the course of some 28 minutes, orchestras swell and trickle like empty breaths as the most lovesick horn section ever sounds a heartbroken clarion. In the pocket of this delicate backdrop, the master of songs, at his least refreshed but at his most tender, sings songs of romance rebuffed, rejected and unrequited (the same pain three times). This is no bar room croon but a shimmering interplay of music and voice that creates the lush jungle evening in your room like “Where The Wild Things Are”.

The majority of the songs are the pledges of an overlooked lover. At his age Frank’s voice was heart weary, he’s been through it all and he knows better than to feel this way about a dame. Balanced against the aged swinger are the words of Anton Carlos Jobim which try to rekindle the lost loves. Frank’s love at the time Mia Farrow was soon to slip off to become the mother of a demon in Rosemary’s baby. We could read into this but I’m sure this recording was another gig.

Getting down to the nitty gritty, the highlights for me are Frank at his most tender with the orchestra roaming behind him on “Dhindi” and “ Quiet Nights”. In “Dhindi” the most sublime moments occur when the music drops to a delicate brush leaving Frank almost unaccompanied comparing himself “to a river that can’t find the sea”. The effect is repeated on “Quiet Nights” where Frank’s cry of solitude “the meaning of existence, my love” ends with a single muted trumpet’s lament, a riff repeated throughout the song.

At points, Antonio Carlos Jobim actually joins in a couple of songs adding some low key touches which should push this record into the hands of all those who skin up to “Solid Air”. The pairing is most notable on “How Insensitive” and in fact it’s not a duet but an intervention because Frank’s in trouble, the heart ache is too much and his friend has to carry the weight.

Bossa nova has always been shot through with uplifting melancholia, a beautiful sadness, saudade, and this seeps and spills over this record.

[Adam Khan]

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