Record Review: Mari Wilson – Pop Deluxe [part 2]

Mari Wilson © 2016 Claire Lawrie

Mari Wilson © 2016 Claire Lawrie

[continued from previous post]

Next, Mari’s version of “In Private” showed that there was not just 60s material in her sights. The 1990 single was from the period where Dusty Springfield was working with Pet Shop Boys, who penned this tune, and while the song was up to the normal high standard of Tennant + Lowe, I much prefer the arrangement to this version. The original seemed stodgy in comparison. The rhythm programming here had a spring in its step [the congas were a nice touch] and the syncopation between it and the keys of Mr. Gavin really managed to lend the song some much-needed swing for the first time. The new outro also evidenced more verve than the original’s simple fadeout. This marked two Dusty Springfield songs in a row that had a new home as far as I was concerned.

I didn’t recognize the title of “White Horses,” but once it played through, there was something very familiar about the pretty melody. I must have heard one of the many versions floating out there over the years, thought I can’t put my finger on where or when. This one had a lazy summer’s day feel to it that almost attained a tropical feel with the slow, arcing guitar chords which complemented the gentle acoustic strumming that grounded the song. I also like how the foley effects of the train station lent this somewhat adolescent song [candyfloss was invoked in the lyrics] some frissons of adult escape to color the meaning in Ms. Wilson’s hands. Details like this revealed the depth of the intentions in carrying out this project.

As ever, the magnificent “Anyone Who Had A Heart” shone here as a keyboard led ballad. The purity of Ms. Wilson’s vocals on the heart-tugging outro had her floating like a kite over the drama of the arrangement. This was followed by the more surprising version of “I Close Me Eyes And Count To Ten” that began with some unexpected vocoder that heralded the song’s countdown and set a dark tone for this tune. While the song was typically a melodramatic examination of emotional paranoia, the brassiness that the song usually delivered undercut the ambiguity of its sentiment. Here, Gavin’s minimal clockwork electro arrangement managed to accentuate the insecurity that was the song’s crux. I absolutely love the moment in the chorus following the middle eight where Ms. Wilson engages in what is for her, rare melisma that offsets the meter of the chorus, further indicating that all may not be well. This was another cut here that was spiritually connected with the B.E.F. album “Dark.” It’s very satisfying to hear another artist exploring that approach to a cover song. Impressive.

The last Bacharach/David number here was “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” and the more florid and operatic Dusty version was increased in intimacy here, being led instead by subtle, Fender Rhodes piano and minimal, heartbeat rhythm. Mari’s ad-libs on the fade suggested that this song of defeat and defiance just might have a hopeful outcome for a change. The album ended with one more Dusty Springfield song, albeit one that probably isn’t known by most Americans, as “Island of Dreams” dated from the earliest part of that singer’s career with her brother in The Springfields. As such, the song was the one fully unknown quantity here for me. As performed here, it was almost a lullaby with just gentle music box accompaniment for Ms. Wilson’s voice. Then, at the song’s two minute mark, it moved into  ghostly dub space with swelling string patches and Mari’s multi-tracked harmonies before fading away into nothing. Echoing the brief fade-in of this song that the album had begun with.


As the cover album became commonplace in the last 25 years, it quickly became devalued currency for my ears. I’d go as far as saying that it soon became an empty cliché, so having such an album delivered with some care and artistry is always appreciated. In the right hands, an album of covers can be an invigorating exercise where the freedom from writing allows many other artistic muscles to get the workout that doesn’t always happen when the heavy lifting of songwriting dominates the proceedings. In such cases, the artist can look to intention and interpretation to provide the artistry in the end product, as Wilson and Gavin have done here. We all know that Mari Wilson can sing like a bird.  Aren’t we lucky that she isn’t content to leave it at that?

– 30 –

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14 Responses to Record Review: Mari Wilson – Pop Deluxe [part 2]

  1. Echorich says:

    When I saw In Private was included on the album I was hopeful that Mari would find something to do with this Tennant/Lowe song, which to date, has not had a great history. Dusty’s recording left me wanting more and the PSB collaboration with Elton John was just an error in the boys’ judgement. Mari gets it oh so right. The arrangement is just the right amount of 60’s retro and 80’s retro. The keyboard programming reminds me of French & Saunders house band Raw Sex at their minimilist (and amusing) best. Come to think of it, In Private might have been a great song for Kirsty MacColl to record – just to bring that image full circle. Mari doesn’t try to take the song to places it doesn’t belong and really makes me think of her earliest Compact recordings here. Well done Mr. Gavin!
    White Horses is a very 60’s tune (I think a singer named Jacky Lee is known for it) and Mari’s version is has a certain adult nature to it that is missing from the almost child-like original rendtion.
    Now for Anyone Who Had A Heart. Many have tried, some have succeeded, but this song belongs to Sandi Shaw and B.E.F. as far as I am concerned. Their version still fills me with anticipation and emotions. It was a true star turn for Shaw, an artist that had given up on an unfriendly music industry years before and you can feel her determination to show all that she was still worth being counted. Mari approaches the song from a place that seems perfectly placed between the 60’s versions of Springfield and Cilla Black and Shaw’s modern urgent version. It is beautiful and dramatic.
    I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten is indeed impressive and expresses a certain well worn age in it’s delivery. It had B.E.F. Dark written all over it and should be considered as a showpiece by Martyn Ware on the upcoming tour.
    Mari does an interesting trick with I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself by giving it an almost Dusty in Memphis feel – think Windmills Of Your Mind. Gorgeous.
    Island Of Dreams makes for a beautiful end song. By opening the album with an intro of the song and then ending with this quiet, sincere interpretation is like the opening and closing of a special book you can always return to.
    Simply put, this is a great album, by a still great performer, performed with intent and emotion.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I was almost going to invoke the “Dusty In Memphis” mood on “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” but the sad truth is, that I have never heard more than one or two tracks from it and I didn’t have the confidence to make such a leap. But I was thinking about it, yes. It’s in my notes.

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    • Tim says:

      I haven’t heard the BEF take on Anyone Had a Heart…I am fond of many of the takes on his music on the One Amazing Night concert cd. Wynonna Judd tackles it there and really puts some heart into it. Motown Salutes Bacharach is another cd out there with some great takes of Bacharach/David songs.

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      • Echorich says:

        It’s interesting that Sandi Shaw, who was no stranger to singing from the Bacharach/David songbook, never recorded Anyone Who Had A Heart back in the 60s. This is probably because it was considered Cilla Black’s song in the UK. Just as Dusty’s Always Something There To Remind Me is the go to UK singers’ version and Dionne Warwick owned the tune in the US, Bacharach/David songs have a way of being identified with a particular singer. But for my money, once again, Sandi Shaw recorded a rollicking, almost impatient, version of Always Something…on one of her earliest albums that’s always stuck with me.
        In her come back years, thanks to B.E.F. and Messrs. Morrissey and Marr, she recorded a wonderful version of Lloyd Cole’s Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken and a smartly late 80s pop/rock take Patti Smith Group’s Frederick that can be taken for it’s own without needing to feel compared to the peerless original. And it may be sacrilegious, but I just love her take on The Smith’s Jeane.

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        • Tim says:

          Whether The Smiths deserve the pedestal they have would make a good conversation here. There’s some good songs in there but ultimately, no. Mr. Marr has a much more robust legacy out of the divorce than his ex does.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Tim – Well, I have both Marr albums and find them to be excellent. His work with others has been eclectic and powerful. so: two thumbs up, Johnny Marr. I wonder how much of The Smiths pedestal is down to the personality of the singer versus the songs. Morrissey was like poison to me, and it took cover versions to alert me to the songs’ worth. I have to say that as a lyricist, he’s peerless, actually. I just can’t stand him or his singing. However, when I have heard Morrissey [and not Smiths] cover versions, they were ineffective for me, so maybe it’s down to the synergy between Morrissey and Marr. I don’t think Marr needs Morrissey to give strong work, but the obverse was definitely the case.

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            • Echorich says:

              I had a love/hate relationship with The Smiths throughout their career. I saw them as early as any New Yorker could at Danceteria in 83 and I was ready to put down the hype as just that hype, but came away a fan. I have all the time in the world for pretentious lead singers – I love Ferry, Sylvian, Johansen, McCulloch… I feel like people take Morrissey way too seriously and that seems to me not to be the problem of the singer… I’m also a pretty rabid fan of Morrissey as a solo artist. Not everything works, and I like albums of his most find terrible. I think his band members get short shrift, especially Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer, because they inevitably must be compared to the Morrissey/Marr bar. As for Marr, I am a bit colored by the fact that guitarists have never been my thing. A great guitarist provides color and shining moments and isn’t some solo virtuoso – that’s never been Rock + Roll to me. Marr is best when he’s a band member. His solo albums are ok, but they aren’t albums I return to much if at all.
              My initial name checking of Morrissey + Marr with regard to Sandie Shaw was just based on their combined efforts to secure her a record deal and work with her. They really don’t play a heavy roll after their initial interaction with her, but she was very appreciative of their interest and contribution.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – When I bought that “Hand In Glove” 12″ is when I realized that with my antipathy towards The Smiths, it was a case of the singer and not the song [if you’ll forgive my Stones reference]. The penny finally dropped and afterward a wave of Smiths covers alerted me to the fact that I consider Morrissey a songwriter; not a singer.

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          • Echorich says:

            Singer and not the song!!
            You unwittingly quoted a track from the new ABC album there Monk…and right now it’s my favorite as well.

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  2. Tim says:

    The blog needs a forum so we can start a Marr v Mozz thread without derailing this excellent post about Mari. Or we could feed each other suggestions on music that are tangential to a Monk post….I was going to opine on the Matt Bianco thread if any of the Pauline London albums are any good beyond Quiet Skies, figure if there’s anywhere I can get an educated opinion on that it would be in a group of people who listen to Mari Wilson, Matt Bianco, Basia and Swing out Sister.

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