The title of Tina Arena's 6th studio album is derived from the dictionary definition of a torch song and "Songs Of Love & Loss" more than lives up to its billing. Tina has lovingly selected 12 songs that explore the map of the human heart with subtlety and grace. There is no emotional grandstanding on "Songs Of Love & Loss", no vocal acrobatics and most definitely, no false sentiment. Instead, Tina lets the music take centre stage. This is not another album of lazily thrown together cover versions. "Songs Of Love & Loss" is a wonderfully cohesive body of work that not only highlights Tina's beautiful voice but also her considerable skill as a storyteller.
There has been a flood of covers albums released in Australia this year. I've heaped praise on the Young Divas' batch of trashy gay anthems and given Marcia Hines' collection of soulful covers a glowing review. As much as I love those albums (and I love them A LOT!), neither comes close to matching the thoughtfulness and artistry on display in "Songs Of Love & Loss". The difference essentially lies in care with which Tina's album has been put together. The orchestral backing is superb, the production is lush and detailed and the songs flow together effortlessly. In a recent interview, Tina stated that she originally intended to record an album of Dusty Springfield classics before broadening the scope of the project to incorporate songs performed by other acts. It's a testament to Tina's amazing talent that she has created an album that Dusty would have been proud to call her own.
The Look Of Love
"Songs Of Love & Loss" fittingly opens with a song first recorded by Dusty Springfield. Burt Bacharach and Hal David's dreamy lounge classic has since been covered by everyone from Dionne Warwick to Nina Simone. That's pretty heady company for Tina but she more than holds her own, coming up with one of the album's many highlights. The restraint displayed by Tina's vocal delivery and the subtle production is admirable. "The Look Of Love" is a delicate treat.
I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself
The second track on the album is another Bacharach/David composition immortalised by Dusty Springfield. Few songs convey the pain of rejection as eloquently and elegantly as "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself". It's hard to go wrong with material like this and Tina wrings every last drop of emotion from the gorgeous lyrics. The sublime mix of guitar and strings is an absolute delight.
So Far Away
"So Far Away" is one of the big surprises on "Songs Of Love & Loss" and possibly the best song on the album. Carol King's original appeared on her classic "Tapestry" album in 1971. However, listening to Tina's exquisite cover version you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a lost 60s classic. The song has been pared back to its lovely melody and then given a complete makeover. The highlight of this beautiful number for me is Tina's exquisite vocal delivery. Even in a whisper, Tina's voice positively drips with feeling.
To Sir With Love
Lulu was the vilest creature to emerge from Britain until Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen were hatched in some dilapidated housing estate toilet. I can't stand the bitch and I've always hated "To Sir With Love". Therefore, it took some time for me to warm to the first single from "Songs Of Love & Loss". Apart from Lulu, my main objection with "To Sir With Love" is the dodgy subject matter. What kind of tragic slut would want to sing a love song to their teacher in this day and age? But I digress. For such a dated song, "To Sire With Love" boasts the most uptempo and modern production on the album, providing a welcome change of pace. Tina's version is a lot of fun but "To Sir With Love" is one of the few songs that doesn't completely gel with album's tone and mood.
The Man With The Child In His Eyes
I'm not a huge Kate Bush fan but "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" deserves its status as a modern classic. Until I heard Tina's interpretation, I fully believed that Kate's 1978 top 10 hit was one of those songs that should never be touched. I couldn't have been more wrong. Tina's beautiful version is a triumph. The kookiness of Kate's original is slightly reigned in, transforming the song into something akin to a lullaby for adults. The percussion and strings are just exquisite. A absolute gem.
Do You Know (Where You're Going To)
The first of two Diana Ross covers is the gorgeous theme to Diana's craptastic 1975 movie, "Mahogany". "Do You Know" was a massive #1 hit for Diana and is probably the only song to be covered by both J. Lo and Mariah Carey. Thankfully, Tina's version sidesteps their rubbish attempts and seeks inspiration from the original. The result is an irresistibly bittersweet concoction that soars with emotion. Tina continues to display her amazing range and the orchestral backing is effortlessly elegant. Classy.
Tina's second Diana Ross cover is a stunning triumph. When I first saw "Love Hangover" on the tracklist, I was concerned how this 1976 disco classic would work on an album of torch songs. As it turns out, my doubts were completely unfounded. All the disco elements have been stripped from "Love Hangover", leaving a sultry lounge classic. The pleading lyrics and lush backing make this the perfect chill out anthem. Tina has never sounded so confident and sexy. I demand remixes!
I Only Want To Be With You
After a string of surprising song choices, Tina returns to the Dusty Springfield songbook for inspiration. "I Only Want To Be With You" is perhaps Dusty's most covered song. Who could ever forget Samantha Fox's amazing rendition, for example? Strangely, Tina's version is one of the few missteps on the album. I think it was mistake to transform "I Only Want To Be With You" into a slow ballad, robbing the song of its naive optimism. Tina's voice is divine and the string backing is masterful but I find this interpretation unnecessarily dull.
The Windmills Of Your Mind
"The Windmills Of Your Mind" won the Academy Award for best song in 1968 and has been a much loved standard ever since. Although strongly associated with Dusty Springfield, "Windmills" has never really been owned by a singer until now. The emotionally charged lyrics are brought to life by Tina's articulate delivery and the jazzy backing evokes the swinging 60s with great style. Another triumph.
REM's "Everybody Hurts" must be the hot ticket for concept albums, appearing on recently releases from David Hobson and Marcia Hines. David's operatic interpretation was utterly painful but Marcia's soulful version was surprisingly endearing. To be honest, I could live without ever hearing another cover of "Everybody Hurts" but Tina's delicate rendition is undeniably lovely. The opening piano line is gorgeous and Tina finally gives her golden pipes free reign after showing admirable restraint over the past 9 songs. It's a tribute to Tina's artistic vision that a 1960s classic like "The Windmills Of My Mind" flows so effortlessly into REM's self-pity anthem from 1992. Artful.
The first of two songs penned by Tina, "Woman" first appeared on her 2001 album "Just Me". The song has been completely overhauled and re-recorded complete with an orchestral backing. I've always considered the original to be one of Tina's most evocative and personal songs with confronting lyrics like "I've learned to abide, not allowed to cry. I understand, I need to be a man just to survive". This version takes the song to new heights with its driving guitars, elegant percussion and Tina's soaring vocals. "Woman" is spine-chillingly good.
The only new song on the album showcases Tina's exquisite songwriting ability. "Until" is a breathtaking conclusion to a truly brilliant body of work. By saving the only completely original contribution for the very end, Tina makes a bold statement. An album of covers was a necessity from a commercial perspective but Tina reminds the listener that her own material can more than hold its own - even in this distinguished company.
"Songs Of Love & Loss" is an extraordinary snapshot of an artist at the very top of her game. Tina's first Australian studio album in 6 long years is a modern classic.