A.B.S. Orchestra / Cliff Richard

Wonderful Life

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Cliff Richard's fifth movie, released in the summer of 1964, was another wonderful knockabout, absurd and adorable in more or less equal doses, and accompanied, of course, by a soundtrack which squeezed every last ounce of effervescence from the plot. The formula was, by now, firmly entrenched. The Michael Sammes Singers twitter, Norrie Paramor produces, and the Associated British Studio Orchestra lavish everything beneath monstrous slabs of sweet strings and wind. Meanwhile, the Shadows rattle along as both an understated backing band and, when the mood hits, frontmen in their own right, throwing two characteristic guitar-led instrumentals into the brew -- "Walkin'" and "Theme for Young Lovers." Equally predictably, the hits flew from the album -- "Theme for Young Lovers" reached number 12 in the U.K., Richard's understatedly grand "On the Beach" made number seven, and both the title track and "Do You Remember" remained favorites long after the movie slipped off the screens. Ah, but there is where comparisons with past soundtracks end. The others were fun because they were so ridiculously enjoyable. This one's fun because...actually, it's no fun at all. It is, however, contrived, condescending, and, for the most part, utterly overblown. Calm down -- it does have a few great moments. "Wonderful Life" itself comes over like something from a Broadway spectacular, all racing orchestration, broad backing vocals, and imbibed with the same timeless bravado which one normally associates with the classics of the 1940s and 1950s. But that, too, is a damning confession. The hit singles aside, there is no denying the audience which Wonderful Life was gunning for -- the mums and dads (and beyond) who still had time for pop, but maybe found the latest crop of superstars a little too outlandish for their tastes. All that long hair, all those suggestive lyrics, all that hand-holding and yeah, yeah, yeah-ing. No such dangers here. The frothy over-excitement of "Home," the stirring big band buoyancy of "A Little Imagination," the string-driven simplicity of "In the Stars," everything harks back to an earlier age, a more innocent time. In fact, in the brutally blunt parlance of the time, Cliff Richard was now so well-rounded an entertainer that he was turning positively square. And Wonderful Life really didn't seem so wonderful, after all.

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