Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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On a bucks-per-minute basis, boxed CD sets aren't as pricey as they seem. But buy a box and you must use your programming buttons. Few album-era artists with three or four CDs of good material in them just churned out singles. Resequenced and baited with dubious rarities, all but the luckiest sets fail to replace the sonic integrity of well-constructed LPs with an irresistible logic of their own. So the listener's own tastes might as well prevail.

Frank Sinatra: The Capitol Years (Capitol) and Frank Sinatra: The Reprise Collection (Reprise) are the proof. Sinatra's albums were "conceived, arranged, and produced as cohesive units." Because Nelson Riddle oversaw 57 of its 75 tunes, the Capitol threefer is relatively consistent, but its intensity soars with every run of songs from the likes of Songs for Swingin' Lovers (available, hint hint, as an audiophile CD all its own), and catchy singles like Love and Marriage or Hey! Jealous Lover sound out of place. When Sinatra became his own boss at Reprise, the concepts just kept on coming--an inset depicts 98 LP covers. So with Riddle contracted to Capitol at the outset and Frank's voice going at the end, the 81-song, four-disc Reprise set changes gears constantly--even if you think Don Costa's Sinatra with Strings is "lovely," it's a sickening shock after the hard swing of Billy May's Sinatra Swings.

There are hours of great singing for the tapes I'm making here. Star of my repackage will be Capitol's newly unearthed piano-accompanied rehearsal of One for My Baby. Nelson Riddle earned his rep. But he never commanded an instrument a tenth as expressive as his boss's voice.

Playboy, Dec. 1990


Nov. 1990 Jan. 1991