Frank Sinatra

A Man Alone: The Words & Music of McKuen

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After making a successful mainstream, contemporary pop album with My Way, Frank Sinatra branched out with A Man Alone, subtitled "The Words & Music of McKuen." Unlike most poets, Rod McKuen was extremely popular and successful, selling over a million copies of his books in the late '60s. After meeting at a party, the singer decided to record an entire album of the poet's verse and music. McKuen wrote a selection of new songs and poems for Sinatra; that material became A Man Alone. McKuen's musical contributions amount to tone poems more than songs. Six of the pieces are actual songs, with the remaining tracks being spoken word pieces with instrumental backdrops, including one number that is half-sung and half-spoken without any instrumental accompaniment at all. Certainly, with all this emphasis on words, A Man Alone was intended to be a serious statement, but much of it comes off as embarrassing posturing. McKuen's compositions are lyrically slight and musically insubstantial, but what saves A Man Alone from being a total failure is the conviction of Sinatra's performance, as well as Don Costa's skillful arrangements. Although he's not able to recite the poetry convincingly, Sinatra's singing is textured and passionate, drawing more emotion from the lyrics than are actually there. Similarly, Costa's charts are lush without being sentimental and very sympathetic to Sinatra's vocals, easily masking the compositional weakness. Sinatra and Costa pull so much out of so little on A Man Alone, it makes the listener wish they had applied their talents and ambitions to a similar, but more substantial set of songs. As it stands, the album is an intriguing listen, but ultimately a failure.

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