Cliff Richard's fifth and sixth albums, 21 Today and 32 Minutes & 17 Seconds tend to get overlooked in any poll of the singer's best albums, written off as two sets catching him in that peculiar void that yawned between his initial breakthrough in 1958 and the first sense of any real competition in 1963. Complacency is frequently in the eye of the beholder, but still there's a sense that 21 Today, in particular, is the sound of an artist on autopilot, a succession of pleasant midtempo ballads with Shadows-lite backing, soaring strings à go-go, and -- the curse of British MOR later in the decade -- the utterly wholesome oohs, aahs, and echoes of an army of clean-living backing youths. A couple of tracks buck the trend -- "Without You" and "Tough Enough" are gritty stompers, while "Y'arriva" at least packs an intriguingly mock-Spanish backing to match vocal stylings lifted straight from an old Speedy Gonzales cartoon. There is also a bizarre version of "Tea for Two," Richard turning in his best well-mannered show band vocal, while the Shadows noodle away in best smoky jazz club style. 32 Minutes & 17 Seconds is better, although the search for direction is undoubtedly still weighing on Richard's mind. That said, an excellent version of skiffle king Chas McDevitt's "How Long Is Forever" ranks among his strongest ballad performances in some time, while the hit "It'll Be Me" is more or less peerless. Most of all, though, these albums -- paired together on this 2001 EMI release -- stand as reminders of why the Merseybeat explosion was so important. Without it, all British pop might have sounded like this!
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson