Mark Shenton, the critic for The Stage, writes an excellent blog, Shenton’s View.
Following Barry Manilow’s sold out 4 day stint at London’s O2 Arena he wrote a wonderful review, which was in dramatic contrast with the opinion of John Earls in the News of the World. Now I don’t know either of these gentlemen but there are many clues to what they’re like in their writing, and in who they write for.
Shenton is forgiving, Earls isn’t. While cracked notes and stiff movements make Shenton warm to Manilow (not feel sorry for him – there’s no pity), Earls has the opposite reaction to “Bazza’s” glitches earning him a piteous two-star review.
I love the positivism and optimism of the person who can look beyond Minnelli’s exaggerated vibrato, Hepburn’s head tremor and Ann Miller’s industrial strength stockings and see the talent. That’s kind of gay, isn’t it…
I know I run the risk of shredding every last ounce of critical cool and credibility I have left, but I’m a fanilow of Manilow. Yep, I just outed myself. But in the contemporary pantheon of singer-songwriter greats — Billy Joel, Carole King, even Dylan and McCartney — he’s carved out a unique niche, not just of longevity (as the others have, too), but of memorability.
“I write the songs that make the whole world sing,” goes the lyric to one of his greatest hits (though, ironically, he never actually wrote that song; it was written by Bruce Johnston). But another line in the song, “I am young again, even though I’m very old”, had a different ring of autobiographical truth when he sang it last night in London at the start of a four night engagement at the 02 Arena.
Manilow, now 67, seemed both raspy and gasp-y at times; but the audience’s palpable affection both fed him new energy, and helped out whenever asked. When it cracked on “Mandy”, for instance, he admitted, “My voice is gone”. Whenever this happens, he falls back on an old showbiz trick that not only endears himself to an audience but proves just how much they love him: he gets them to sing instead!
But as an artist, he doesn’t stand still (in any sense); though his body moves awkwardly now (and he looks like he’s in pain as he does so), he’s still pushing himself in new directions. He’s got a new album on the way — called ‘Fifteen Minutes’, its about the price of fame; as someone who has had more than his fifteen minutes’ worth, he speaks from experience. It is, he said last night, his first original album in 10 years, and telling us that one song from it has already been playlisted on the BBC, he notes, “The last time I had a song on the radio, Al Jolson was the competition.”
And here’s Earls:
He hasn’t had a Top 20 hit since 1983, dances so stiffly he seems one tour away from a stairlift and is so cheesy his face looks like melted Emmental. But Bazza has written some undeniable classics that have provided generations of pop stars with guaranteed hits…
Who finishes with:
… But with not a palm tree in sight for Copacabana, it seems that even though Manilow wrote many of the songs that made the whole world sing, he’s forgotten how to nose his way into our affections.
Whereas Shenton concludes:
He’s an old-time showman; in the current age of people who have their 15 minutes of fame and vanish, his is a career to be celebrated and honoured.
Thank goodness for Mark Shenton.Photo by Brian Bowen Smith