Dame Shirley Bassey fan Peter has written a wonderful review about the new album I Owe It All To You that we would like to share with you. I hope you enjoy it.
In a celebrated and (in)famous 2005 interview with Jan Moir in the Telegraph, Dame Shirley Bassey talked about how seeing the same fans at her concerts night after night was ‘psychologically upsetting’. (‘Moi?’, you might be thinking.)
To be honest, ever since news emerged in February that The Dame was working on a new album, she’d be forgiven for repeating the phrase. From alternative facts to fake rumours, many ‘words, words, words’ have had to be endured about what the album was going to be and about what it was not going to be. Would it be all new material? Would it be a mixture of old material and new material? Would it involve re-recordings of hits? Very few people actually knew, but many gave the impression that they did. Psychologically upsetting indeed.
Happily, at the beginning of October all was revealed: all new recordings, with just one re-recording, to include a couple of concert standards yet to be committed to disc, a couple of specially written songs, and the rest covers, her forte. The first single, ‘I owe it all to you’, we loved immediately. It hinted at the kind of album we always longed for. The second single, ‘I was here’, we loved even more. It too hinted that the album to come was the album we have always hoped she would record. The third single, ‘Look but don’t touch’, reminded us of ‘We Got Music’, another late career recording that should have done better than it actually did.
Then on 6th November the entire album arrived. And instantly we knew: it is the masterpiece of which we have known that she is capable. It is the masterpiece which she merits. It was suggested in ‘The Show Must Go On’, even more so in ‘The Performance’, but here, finally, after a career of some 67 years, was the heart-breaking pinnacle of her career: misery all around, vulnerability, fragility, reflection, unsurpassed beauty, sheer perfection.
It is impossible to listen to the album without thinking of the context in which it is recorded. It is THE COVID-19 album, a timeless classic produced at a particular moment in time that will endure long after this particular moment and surely stand as the crowning achievement of her incomparable career.
There is also another context in which the album was recorded that The Dame herself has spoken about in some of the accompanying interviews. It is the mortality album, the last things, the end things, as the greatest interpreter the UK has ever known, the greatest interpreter perhaps the world has ever seen and ever will see, draws ever closer to becoming one of The Immortals. Because there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.
And now is the time to have a number 5 album, becoming the first woman to have Top 40 albums in seven decades and probably becoming the oldest woman to have a Top 5 album of new material rather than a compilation.
Let’s now look at the album track by track.
How can it be you may be wondering that it has taken almost 70 years for The Dame to have an overture? As The Italians would say, ‘Boh!’
*Who wants to live forever?*
The one re-recording on the album, originally recorded in 1995, can be forgiven because it is just wonderful. The voice is not what it was 25 years ago. How could it be? But it is, surely, even more expressive and beautiful than it was then?
*I owe it all to you*
Of course, not the least reason why this is one of The Great Songs is that in the vocals and in the lyrics one can hear the weight of contemplation that this could be the final curtain on a career spanning almost seventy years. And not just any old career, but the greatest one ever in British showbusiness and one of the last proper showbusiness careers anywhere in the world.
*Almost like being in love*
At last, one of The Dame’s concert standards committed to disc. We’ve always loved it and we love it still.
*Maybe this time*
A song that The Dame did not start performing until too late in her career and as you listen to it, you can imagine how it would have gone down if it too had been a concert standard.
*I made it through the rain*
It is with this track that heartbreak really starts. How can you not be moved by this stunning version of Mr Manilow’s beautiful number? And when you listen to it, how can you not wish that The Dame had recorded an entire album of Mr M’s material? His songs are perfect for her.
Here, ladies and gentlemen, is one of The Dame’s greatest ever recordings. It is, perhaps, the most heart-breaking and affecting song she has ever sung. It should come as no surprise that it is a piece of Italian music with lyrics added for someone whose mother is Italian. For really we owe it all to The Italian – and to Helena Shenel, of course.
‘Adagio’ has been recorded at exactly the right age and at exactly the right time. It just wouldn’t be the same if The Dame weren’t 83 and approaching the end of her career and indeed approaching her immortality.
It is THE song of the 2020s – as ‘The Wall’ was THE song of the 1950s, as ‘If love were all’ was THE song of the 1960s, as ‘I’d do it all again’ was THE song of the 1970s, as ‘If and when’ was THE song of the 1980s, as ‘I’ll stand by you’ was THE song of the 1990s, as ‘The Living Tree’ was THE song of the 2000s and as ‘MacArthur Park’ could have been the song of the 2010s.
*Look but don’t touch*
After The Dame has wrung you out with ‘Adagio’, she brings you back up with this bonkers but brilliant number. As much as we like it, it feels out of place on this album and we would have preferred a recording of ‘You Needed Me’ or ‘Back to Black’ in its place.
Then it’s straight back to heartbreak with this very moving cover. We first heard it at the Royal Albert Hall in 1992. The 28 year wait for it to be recorded has been worth it for, along with ‘Adagio’, it is a standout track – and perfect for these times.
*You ain’t heard nothing yet*
Another concert standard that it is good to have on disc, even though, again, we might have preferred ‘You needed me’ or ‘Back to Black’ or even ‘Summertime’ in its place.
*I don’t know what love is*
On goes the theme of heartbreak with which this album is almost overfull. ‘I don’t know what love is’ is just stunning and how can it be listened to without tears welling? Even if they don’t drop.
*Always on my mind*
If those tears haven’t dropped with ‘I don’t know what love is’, they surely will with this number. Various people, on various platforms, have speculated who The Dame had in mind when she sang this. If the album is the reflective capo lavoro that it seems then I hope it is Mr Novak she had in mind.
*I was here*
The penultimate song is another heartbreaker. Alas, and inevitably, comparisons are being made between Beyoncé’s version and The Dame’s. But in reality their renditions should be seen as completely different songs – which just happen to have the same lyrics. Beyoncé’s recording is about life – a song full of defiance, sang when she was 30 and less than ten years into her solo career. The Dame’s recording is about mortality – a song full of reflection, sang when she was 83 and nearly seventy years into her career. Both are wonderful, but totally different to one another.
The album ends with that number with which The Dame brought down the curtain on one of her greatest ever live performances – The Royal Variety Performance in 2005. Some 15 years on, the song gives us hope. If music is her last love, perhaps there will be another album after all.
Given how her voice now is, she could be turning out reflective masterpiece after mournful masterpiece after melancholy masterpiece for years to come – hopefully in the safe and superb hands of Decca. Why, oh why, oh why didn’t they sign her in 1979? Can you imagine everything we would owe to them if they had?!
And if you want just one sentence with which to describe this work of art, let it be this: ”I owe it all to you’ is the album where Dame Shirley took a collection of sad songs and made them sadder.’