At first blush, the idea of a new Neil Sedaka album in 2010 might seem like some kind of joke. I mean, this is a guy who would have been eligible for the You Again? treatment in 1975, when Elton John, for no apparent reason other than to prove he was the biggest star in the universe and could do anything he wanted, brought Sedaka out of mothballs and helped him score his first hits since the early ’60s. The mid ’70s were huge for Sedaka — he was all over the radio, both as a performer (“Laughter in the Rain,” “Bad Blood”) and a songwriter (“Love Will Keep Us Together”) — but his comeback was blessedly brief, and he’s been pretty quiet since then. Until he popped up on American Idol a few years ago, his highest-profile project of the 21st century was Brighton Beach Memories: Neil Sedaka Sings Yiddish.
If you think about it for a minute, though, it makes perfect sense for Sedaka to resurface now. Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits of the Fifties reached Number One on the Billboard album charts in 2006 (followed by #2, #4, and #14 bows for its ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s sequels). Neil Diamond topped the charts with Home Before Dark in 2008. And Barbra Streisand hit Number One last year with her most recent album, Love Is the Answer. Clearly, old people be buyin’ records, so why shouldn’t 70-year-old Neil get in on the action?
Here, my friends, is the reason why. It’s called The Music of My Life, and it makes clear that as far as AARP-certified pop stars go, Neil Sedaka isn’t even in shouting distance of Barry, Barbra, and Diamond. Those artists are all priorities at their labels, for one thing, and enjoy the superstar-sized recording budgets that go with the territory — and Diamond has the added benefit of being able to use Rick Rubin’s magical beard hairs to fly, Dumbo-style, up the charts. Sedaka, meanwhile, has licensed The Music of My Life to Razor & Tie, the label that gave us Monster Ballads and the Kidz Bop series, and it sounds like it was recorded with half of whatever Streisand spent on croissants while recording Love Is the Answer. (The keyboards, in particular, seem to have been borrowed from Daryl Dragon.)
I’ll say this much for Neil Sedaka: For a singer you probably thought died 25 years ago, he’s in remarkably fine voice, which is to say he still sounds like the same penny-loafered gelding he did in 1962. On the other hand, he apparently believes this is his strongest set of songs, which is a clear indication that someone should have wrested power of attorney from him years ago.
Sedaka at least has the courtesy to let you know what you’re in for right away — he kicks things off with “Do You Remember,” a Latin-flavored horror show that finds Sedaka leading his Casio army south of the border for the greatest bilingual tragedy since Mellow Man Ace’s The Brother with Two Tongues. From there, he dabbles in a little pale funk (“A Fool in Love”), pays a visit to the over-60 hookah lounge for some Cairo-by-way-of-Dubuque balladry (“Living in a Fantasy”) and clones himself for a few minutes of inoffensive doo-wop (“Right or Wrong”). You get the idea — it’s all vintage Sedaka, which is to say it’s immaculately pressed, very well-mannered, and ultimately a little creepy. Even when he’s singing about drinking himself into a post-breakup stupor in “Bringing Me Back to Life,” Sedaka sounds like he’s smiling on a dinner theater stage. Actually, he sounds a lot like Bob McGrath from Sesame Street, except Bob has the good sense to sing about topics that are appropriate for old men with perfect diction and a healthy vibrato, such as the letters of the alphabet and being proud of remembering how to count.
Of course, Sedaka’s squareness has always been a big part of his appeal, and there might be millions of rock-shy senior citizens just waiting to shuffle on over to Best Buy and buy a copy of The Music of My Life — stranger things have happened, particularly in Britain, where Tony Christie’s cover of Sedaka’s “Is This the Way to Amarillo” is apparently the top-selling single of the 21st century. (And stranger yet: He’s already debuted his next project, a classical symphony, and a Broadway musical based on his songs has been in development for years.) I have to believe, though, that the type of listener who seeks out Sedaka’s brand of corny escapism is probably looking for something that sounds like it was created with good old-fashioned production values — a la Barry and Barbra — rather than a chintzy album whose cover seems to depict a desperately jaunty man who knows his next car ride will be a surprise trip to an assisted living facility. This might be the music of Neil’s life, but I sincerely doubt it’s yours.
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