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oldbillclarkeOffline
Post subject: Trilogy by Frank Sinatra (1980)  PostPosted: Jun 11, 2010 - 08:29 PM
R.C.Guild-SM
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Joined: Feb 19, 2007
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Location: Georgetown, Ontario, Canada
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(This review was originally written by me as Phantom Gtowner and posted on Amazon.ca in 2006.)

Let's face it, Frank didn't need to do "Trilogy", arguably the most ambitious record of his career. At age 64, his place in pop music history was assured. Recording at all by then had its risks. While most of his cronies were either drinking tequila in Palm Springs or resting peacefully in Hades, he was hard at work with producer Sonny Burke. It amounted to a monstrous three LP set (now two CD's) and a total of 26 tracks. This recording was a concept record in that each disc represented one of The Past, The Present and The Future. "The Past" is conducted and arranged by Billy May, "The Present" features Don Costa and "The Future" is handled by Gordon Jenkins. All three volumes are produced by Sonny Burke. Record One: "The Past" is where Sinatra really shines. With bandleader Billy May, he effortlessly sails through tracks of varying tempo like "The Song Is You" and "Let's Face The Music And Dance" with that familiar yet somewhat annoying Sinatra panache. If he had stopped at Record One we would have quite an enjoyable LP, but there was more.

"The Present", record two, is an uneven set but the highlights are well worth a listen. "Theme From New York, New York", the high point of the entire album is turned into a Frank Sinatra tour de force. When he sings that he wants to be "king of the hill, top of the heap!", you know he means it. The finishing touches by Don Costa, such as the subtle tempo changes near the conclusion, are terrific and when he gets to the last verse in the part "..and if I can make it there.." his elongation of the word "and" is confirmation that Frank knows he got it right. Most singers half his age don't sing with this conviction. Until this, the best known version of this tune was by Liza Minnelli. Today it would be hard to find someone who can even remember Minnelli doing it. Another high point, the track "You And Me (We Wanted It All)", is a nice melodic song with a definite 1970's atmosphere. These are great tracks but my problem with "The Present" is simply that, of the ten songs, six are tunes that I could have done without. In trying to represent the present, Frank performs songs that had been huge hits, mostly from the 1970's, which are far better known by other singers. Some examples are Kristofferson's "For The Good Times", an abbreviated "MacArthur Park", The Beatles' "Something" and Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender". Frank Sinatra's ongoing problem since the 1960's has been a lack of decent songs for him to sing. Please don't misunderstand me when I say that. This is not a knock on contemporary songwriters, far from it. There have been and will always be good quality songs written but many modern composers don't suit Sinatra's style. Most popular music of any certain era has an inherent sameness to it, a lot like automobile designs. By that I mean, for instance, two predominant 1970's musical fashions were disco music and introspective singer/songwriters just as its cars had vinyl roofs and were the size of large office buildings, but all are long gone. (Actually, disco music isn't really gone, they just choose not to call it that anymore.) Frank was at his best doing Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn or the Gershwins and he knew it. These writers were from a different era and had a style and sensibility that suited Sinatra. He attempts Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are" and Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue" with disastrous results. Why would he even think about recording these songs? My guess is because these tunes really did represent the present in 1980 to Frank and Sonny Burke, which speaks volumes about their take on the times and what they thought Sinatra's fans wanted to hear.

Which brings us to the third record, "The Future". This is where it gets just a little pretentious and a whole lot wiggy. Frank's entire career consisted almost exclusively of singing short pop songs and when he gets into more elongated musical structures he sounds a little like The Sex Pistols trying to do Swan Lake. Here he performs six tracks all written specifically for this project by conductor Gordon Jenkins. I don't make claims to have heard all of Sinatra's work but this must surely rank as the strangest thing he has ever done. The first track "What Time Does The Next Miracle Happen", a ten minute epic, is a futuristic musical trek around the solar system, much as you might fly an airplane, complete with airport like PA announcements. "World War None" sounds like it's from some long lost musical, "I've Been There" returns us to normal and is not bad at all but then there's "Song Without Words" which is okay but strangely, it actually has words. All this is followed by another epic length piece called "Before The Music Ends" which is all about returning to Hoboken to see his old neighborhood. It's as hokey as hell but it does have its charm. Record Three:"The Future" has it's credibility problems. However it is ambitious and that part I like. There are too many singers today who don't want to take any chances, or more likely, their record companies won't let them. Sinatra solved that problem in 1961 by starting his own record company, Reprise Records. "Trilogy" is not the ultimate Frank Sinatra LP but it's far from insignificant. Despite my gentle slagging, this record is an enjoyable listen and it's good to know that, in his mid 60's, Frank was still feisty. There's a certain ironic comfort in that.
 
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