Duets

Frank Sinatra

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Duets Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

As a marketing concept, Frank Sinatra's comeback album Duets was a complete success. A collection of Sinatra standards produced by Phil Ramone, the record wasn't a duets album in the conventional sense -- Sinatra never recorded in the studio with his partners. Instead, the other singers recorded their tracks separately, sometimes in different studios, and the two tracks were pasted together to create the illusion of a duet. In the case of several duet partners, including Bono and Barbara Streisand, this means they rely on camp as a way of making their performances interesting. Sinatra, meanwhile, is oblivious to all of the vocal grandstanding, simply because he recorded his tracks well in advance of their contributions. The result is a mess. Not only do the vocalists never mesh, but the orchestrations are ham-fisted and overblown, relying more on bombast than showmanship. Furthermore, Sinatra's performance is uneven; occasionally his voice is remarkable, but just as often it is thin and worn. Nevertheless, Duets was a gigantic hit, selling over two million copies and becoming Sinatra's single most commercially successful record, though it's easily the worst he released during his lengthy career. Duets rose to number two on the pop charts because of its masterful marketing strategy. The album was promoted as a piece of nostalgia, primarily to baby boomers but also to Generation X as a piece of kitsch. Both approaches ignore the emotional core of Sinatra's music, which is evident on only one track -- "One for My Baby," which was essentially a solo performance introduced by an instrumental from saxophonist Kenny G. Perhaps if Duets remained true to the essence of Sinatra's music, it would have been more effective, but as it stands, the album is only admirable as a piece of product, not a piece of music.

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