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Tom Jones: Reload (1999) February 17, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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Tom Jones: Reload

Tom Jones: Reload

For some people, there’s a wall between cool and uncool, and Tom Jones is on the wrong side of it. Reload destroys that wall and makes the whole idea irrelevant, because whatever else it may be, it is fun.

This is an album of duets featuring a variety of singers and bands, covering just as wide a variety of songs. There’s hipster bait (Portishead, Divine Comedy), pop stars (Natalie Imbruglia, Cerys from Catatonia, the Cardigans, Robbie Williams, the Barenaked Ladies), a few vets who’ve been around for decades rather than years (Van Morrison, the Pretenders), some rockers (Stereophonics, James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers), and a couple of “maybe they’re big in Europe” types (Mousse T, Zucchero). And more.

The artists whose songs are being covered span just as wide a spectrum: the Talking Heads, Portishead (but not the song they appear on), the Kinks, INXS, Fine Young Cannibals, Lenny Kravitz, Iggy Pop, and Three Dog Night, among others.

So what unites this weird combination of musicians and songs? Simple: Tom Jones meeting other musicians on their playing ground, and having a blast doing it. I used to dismiss Jones as a kitschmeister like Engelbert Humperdinck, but married a Tom Jones fan. Actually listening to his greatest hits album made it clear that, despite the often deeply unhip material and arrangements, the man has real talent and presence. And a willingness to try anything. His ’80s cover of Prince’s “Kiss,” produced by the Art of Noise, is something of a forerunner to this album; so’s a duet he did with Tori Amos in 1994.

There are certainly surprises here. “You’re Right, I’m Left, She’s Gone,” best known as an Elvis song, has an almost punk edge, and Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” gains some horns and synths but retains its guitar lines. The Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House,” featuring Cerys, is a big, fun dance tune.

But it’s not just party songs. The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon swaps verses with Jones on a faithful take on Portishead’s powerful “All Mine,” and Jones and Imbruglia bring drama to INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart.”

So you get dance pop, triphop, rock and roll, and  ballads. Many of the guest musicians sound like they’re consciously trying to raise their game to keep from being blown out by Jones’s voice, and they usually succeed. And they often sound like they’re having a lot of fun doing it, like Chrissie Hynde on Iggy’s “Lust for Life.”

Cool, schmool. It’s fun. And to think it was released in the UK, Europe, Canada… but not the USA. America lost out on that one. At least Jones’s new album, 24 Hours (about which more later, probably), was properly released there.

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