The Dave Stewart Songbook, Volume One

David A Stewart

2008: Surfdog 2-512190

    CD 1
  1. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
  2. Don’t Come Around Here No More
  3. American Prayer
  4. Would I Lie to You?
  5. Old Habits Die Hard
  6. Underneath It All
  7. Lily Was Here
  8. Here Comes the Rain Again
  9. Taking Chances
  10. Midnight in Chelsea
  11. Love Is a Stranger
    CD 2
  1. Missionary Man
  2. Possessed
  3. Greetings from the Gutter
  4. Thorn in My Side
  5. Goddess of Love
  6. Jealous
  7. The Miracle of Love
  8. Stay
  9. This Is the World Calling
  10. Ordinary Miracle

Although it’s nice to hear some familiar songs re-presented in different guise, and to be introduced to some of Stewart’s oeuvre I didn’t know of, this intellectually fascinating album perhaps predictably suffers from performance by singers who simply aren’t Annie Lennox. They have soulful voices and genuine passion, but they lack her excellent combination of precision, clarity, and intensity. Without those, all the power in the world (and she has plenty of that too) is just bold brushstrokes, not lines. As for Dave’s singing, it is lovely to hear his personal voicing of what he’s co-written, although even his production prowess can’t prevent his voice from being outmatched by the combination of rock band and orchestra.

I got the discs as part of the over-300-page glossy monster tome The Dave Stewart Songbook—The Stories behind the Songs, Volume One, a purchase which is well worth the price and more, as it comes with not only the CDs but also scads of personal/rare/iconic photos, the sheet music (simplified, not SATB/orchestrated, and not always as I would have wished…still, you can learn a lot about the song by seeing it stripped down to the skeleton, which is why I study these), and above all the most outrageous stories. The one about writing “This Is the World Calling” with Bob Geldof is the absolute capper…I literally dropped the book, I was laughing so hard near the end of it.

The glimpses Stewart gives us into what creates a song are so chattily provided that it takes several readings to really see some of them amid the storytelling. Everything contributes: discerning what does so in what way is up to the reader, which is a delicious challenge you can take up or not as you wish, and one you can never exhaust or complete. It’s a book of the kind of thing I wish most of my favorite musical artists would produce, an articulation of at least background and context if not actual “story of” their songs. I’m a big fan of liner notes on albums.

On top of all that, it has been wonderful to read Stewart celebrating Lennox…simply, profoundly, abundantly, and above all personally. Also to see someone on the planet besides myself take note of the “very unusual” (Stewart) / “wonderfully weirdly chorded” (me) answering harmonies on “Would I Lie to You?,” one of Lennox’s specialties I’m always eager to hear more of. The strength of all of these songs and their adaptability to various circumstances and performers (Céline Dion appropriating “Taking Chances” for her own use after Stewart and Kara DiGuardio had scarcely finished writing and recording it themselves, for example, which still makes me blink with eyebrows raised high in surprise) is amply shown throughout these two discs, although I must note that the band-plus-orchestra-plus-singers mass does suffer from lack of dynamic range in its relentless, omnipresent bulk.

HAVING SAID ALL THAT, however snarkily, there are delights throughout. “Love Is a Stranger” gets a decent strutting out (although again Eurythmics took it farther even in 1999 on the Peacetour, with Lennox acting out a magnificent self-destruction that still amazes me); “Taking Chances” has a very compelling and engaging start and nearly gets airborne, and maybe it would have done so if singer Amy Keys had sung as if she were speaking instead of acting; and it’s intriguing to hear Dave’s cover version of his own “Greetings from the Gutter” with all its minefield of lyrics.

The moment of truth for each song really is where you can hear the singer singing it as if they’d written it just then, as if it was coming directly from them as the source. That doesn’t happen much on this album, and I’m not saying that as someone who’s heard some of the songs so many times I can’t think of them coming from any other mouths: I’ve heard some Eurythmics songs magnificently re-presented even on YouTube (a solid nod here toward Brian Would, “booradleysstuntman” whoever he is, and Honorable Mention to The Subscribers). When you can hear a song for the first time even though it’s one you already know well, that’s when a song proves itself and a performer does too.