Review: Susan Boyle’s “I Dreamed A Dream”

Nov 30, 2009 5:07pm

 We’ve all seen the youtube video and it’s amazing.  Watching the judges and audience of “Britain’s Got Talent,” underestimating a dowdy forty-eight year old woman, making snap judgments based on her appearance only to have their socks blown off.  It’s priceless.  Watching Simon Cowell’s smug smirk turn to amazement is really something.  People can be cruel and Susan Boyle was able to set everyone straight.  It’s the kind of clip that should be shown to anyone who has ever been wrongly placed in a corner by society.  It’s a lesson for the judgmental masses. Unfortunately, it will probably be a lesson forgotten in about five minutes.   For now, though, Boyle’s future is set.  She’s already made British chart history and it looks like she’ll do pretty well over here as well.  So, the question is, how is the album?  Does it do her talent or that very telling cultural moment justice?  The answer is both yes and no.  Boyle’s voice sounds great on the album, but the choice to have her do almost a complete set of cover songs deprives her of establishing her own unique identity.  At first listen, this seems more like a calculated move to get something out quickly.  Once you look at the liner notes, you see that each song has comments from Boyle herself as to why it was chosen.  So, this must be a collection of her favorite songs.  While, this is a respectable move for starters, it may ultimately hurt her if she doesn’t follow it up quickly with some original material. For maximum cultural impact, she should be doing some of her own songs. There’s probably a team of writers working on it as I type this.  Mere cover artists run the risk of sounding like glorified karaoke. Boyle’s got too amazing a voice for that.  The album also suffers from painfully slow, sedate arrangements.  Yes, many of these songs are quite stately, but that doesn’t mean they should be void of anything close to pep.  Too often the Broadway and showtune big name vocalists forget this.  I’m not saying the production should be jazzed up to give it a pop flare.  No.  That would ruin it. I’m just saying that these sparse, slow arrangements seem to all sound the same placed together.  It works for “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art,” but consider her cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.”  The Sundays did a similar, more gripping cover of the song at the beginning of the last decade.  While, Boyle sings the song well, the arrangement makes it a bit of a snoozefest.  Nothing drastic.  Just a slight touch here and there would do wonders.  The same is true with her version of “Daydream Believer.”  While that is one of the Monkees’ slower songs, it’s still pretty upbeat.  This arrangement keeps the track at a snail’s pace.   Even the Skeeter Davis tune, “The End Of The World,” which is by its nature a true downer (especially if you’ve seen “Girl Interrupted”) could use an ever so slight tempo boost.  Nevertheless, on this track and throughout, Boyle gives a nicely skilled performance.  As if perfectly  (or rather, transparently) crafted to be a hot Black Friday item, tacking on a version of “Silent Night” at the end of the disc seems to tell you where everybody who is guiding Boyle on her journey is focused. It seems all about striking now while people are paying attention.  But if you use too many tracks, people become wise to them.  A cynical public will often see the tricks and not the art that the tricks are designed to benefit.  This is unfortunate because Boyle has real talent as a vocalist.  She’s not a propped up pop machine. Sadly this record reeks of Simon Cowell and company’s cookie-cutter strategy. It’s an immediate approach, but it’s one which does not lend itself to career longevity. One hopes that the masses will appreciate Boyle for her talent and not just as a passing fad.  If she can get past this covers stage and have success with a second record, she’s golden. Giving the album the title of her breakout performance of the “Les Miserables” tune is a no-brainer. For, at its core, even though this record doesn’t fully succeed in quite the way it should, this is after all, the culmination of a woman’s well-earned and well-deserved dream coming true.  If she could have known what would befall her this year, this time last year, she would have probably not believed it.   Boyle has the potential to become a timeless vocalist.  More like let’s say a Streisand.  She’s down to earth enough to not become a cartoonish diva.  This isn’t a classic start.  Due to some of the arrangements and other such missteps, it’s merely OK, but it may ultimately get her off on the right footing. In the end, “I Dreamed A Dream” finds Susan Boyle succeeding as a vocalist.  Interestingly enough, as an album, the disc doesn’t ultimately succeed to its fullest potential.  Hopefully her follow-up will better showcase her talent. 

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