REVIEW: Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined - 2015 London Cast

Recording CoverBurt Bacharach is justifiably regarded as one of the preeminent pop songwriters of the sixties and seventies, so it's probably inevitable that theatrical revues of his work will occasionally appear – no bad thing in theory, since his terrific score for Promises Promises proved his music can work beautifully in the theatre. The 2003 Broadway revue The Look of Love went unrecorded, but Kyle Riabko's Close To You, originally produced at New York Theater Works under the title What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined, has yielded a cast recording following successful runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory and the Criterion in London.

This isn't a straightforward rundown of Bacharach's greatest hits, though. In the liner notes, Riabko explains that he was aiming to interpret Bacharach's back catalogue in "a fresh, new way", through the prism of his own musical influences (he namechecks Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Sly Stone, and Paul Simon). Accordingly, the songs have been rearranged, and sometimes pulled apart and put back together in medleys, or with a fragment of one song used as counterpoint to the refrain of another. It's obvious a great deal of thought has gone into the process, and it's obvious that everyone involved has treated the material with enormous care. It's too bad, then, that Riabko has taken a drawer full of the twentieth century's most familiar, most distinctive pop songs, and carefully, lovingly transformed them into the musical equivalent of magnolia paint.

It's not terrible. The seven performers (six of them sing, five of them play instruments) are all slick musicians, the smooth backing vocals sound like they could have come off a Sonos album, and the songs themselves are all terrific. Divorced from Steven Hoggett's staging, though, this particular treatment of the music is subject to the law of diminishing returns. There are some highlights - Greg Coulson and Renato Paris's brisk, breezy mashup of "Windows of the World" and "What The World Needs Now" is charming, and so is a medley of" The Sundance Kid," "Magic Moments," and "Trains and Boats and Planes." Coulson and Paris pair up again on a reggae-ish "I'll Never Fall In Love Again", and it works surprisingly well. Listen to it for too long, though, and a sameness starts to creep in, and some of the interlude sequences veer perilously close to the sort of inoffensive pap you'd expect to hear while on hold to an airline.

It doesn't help, either, that Riabko himself gets more to sing than anybody else. These are, as I said, familiar, distinctive songs, and they were introduced by a selection of familiar, distinctive, stellar voices, ranging from Gene Pitney and Dionne Warwick to Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, and Tom Jones. We all have a selection of those performances permanently rattling around in our heads, and next to them, unfortunately, Riabko is simply bland. He has a very good voice, he's very carefully learned how to deliver a certain kind of sensitive/wispy contemporary pop, and his singing here is simply bloodless. Possibly it makes more sense in the show, when you can see him. On record, his approach to this music makes for pleasant-enough background listening, but start paying any attention at all to what you're hearing and you'll probably find yourself seeking out the classic sixties/seventies recordings of these songs, all of which are more exciting than anything on this album.

It's a pity, because – as I said – this project has obviously been put together with great care. The album sounds great, the vocals come through with impeccable clarity, it's all nicely packaged with an intriguing set of production photographs, and if you saw and liked the show it'll be a lovely souvenir. The double album's track list includes a dozen bonus tracks of Riabko's demos of these songs; if you liked him in the show, you'll love them – there's (even) more of him on the demo tracks than there is in the final versions of those numbers – but if you don't, they'll quickly become tedious (we're fortunately spared a second version of his dire take on "What's New Pussycat?," which is the album's lowest point). Towards the end of the main body of the album, the performers join together on a rousing but ultimately overlong rendition of "What The World Needs Now Is Love." What this album needs, I'm afraid, is a lot less Kyle Riabko.

1 Comment

hitormiss wrote on June 24, 2016

As you noted, Steven Hoggett's direction added a lot to this revue and the NYTW production was one of my favorites that year. I think film would have been a better medium to record the show for posterity. Kyle Riabko is more swoonworthy when you add the visual...

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