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Thursday, May 23, 2013

I like singers who sing like they talk

Mark Ellen won't mind me saying he can be absent-minded. In the early days of The Word he forgot he'd arranged to do a phone interview and went out to get a sandwich.

Reception rang looking for him. "There's a Tony Bennett on the line." I couldn't help wondering whether this was the great saloon singer or a decorator ringing Mark with an estimate. It's a common name.

I asked them to put him through. Soon as I heard the voice say "Mark?" I knew it was the Tony Bennett. The voice speaking to me was unmistakably the same one that had sung to us all those years. He could no more disguise it than fake his fingerprints.

Since then I've decided the singers I really like sing in the way they speak. For instance I prefer Christine McVie to Stevie Nicks. That doesn't mean they sound exactly the same but it does mean their musical sound is identifiably related to their spoken one. The best singer of all, Sinatra, was the classic example. That's how he made songs make sense. He slipped from speech to song without stopping to arrange himself into the posture of a singer.

On the other hand, and here I'm obviously an old git, an increasing number of singers don't seem to feel they're performing until they've put on what they clearly think is a singerly voice. And I don't just mean the usual diva tricks - showy melisma, notes sustained beyond reason, the word "my" delivered as "mah". I also find myself being exposed to a lot of guitar-playing stool-roosters who deliver in a mannered "hello sky, hello trees" style from the back of the throat with minimal involvement of the articulators. They wouldn't talk like that. The result is their songs make no sense whatsoever.