ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: TELL ME ON A SUNDAY (1980)
1) Take That Look Off Your Face; 2) Let Me Finish; 3) It's Not The End Of The World (If I Lose Him); 4) Letter Home To England; 5) Sheldon Bloom; 6) Capped Teeth And Caesar Salad; 7) You Made Me Think You Were In Love; 8) It's Not The End Of The World (If He's Younger); 9) Second Letter Home; 10) Come Back With The Same Look In Your Eyes; 11) Let's Talk About You; 12) Take That Look Off Your Face (reprise); 13) Tell Me On A Sunday; 14) It's Not The End Of The World (If He's Married); 15) I'm Very You, You're Very Me; 16) Nothing Like You've Ever Known; 17) Let Me Finish (reprise).
In between the giant successes of Evita and Cats lies this little platter, quite delicious in its own humble way. I omit a review of Variations, a rock/classical hybrid that Andrew concocted in collaboration with his brother Julian (a classically trained cellist) — I have no skills that would allow me to properly «review» Paganini, much less a set of 23 variations that A. L. W. composed for Caprice No. 24 In A Minor — but the odd trick is that, eventually, the Baron found a way to integrate both projects: the musical Song And Dance would be splicing together Tell Me On A Sunday, a relatively short song cycle performed in its entirety by one female vocalist, and Variations, choreographed for a ballet performance.
I do not care much for the Song And Dance idea: merging these two completely different ventures within one concept was merely a pretentious gesture, whose real purpose must have been not to «lose sight» of all of Webber's latest creations. It did not actually last too long, and eventually Tell Me On A Sunday re-emerged on its own, expanded with several extra songs to boost the overall length of the performance (the original album goes only slightly over 40 minutes). However, to this day it still remains one of the lesser known Webber musicals, eclipsed by one too many biggies.
Which is a pity, because there is an element of subtle intrigue and freshness about this project that sets it apart. For one thing, it is all targeted towards one singer: the original album is usually listed as part of the discography of the UK artist Marti Webb (selected by Webber based on her previous experience as Evita in the matinee performance), although most people have probably never even heard of any other Marti Webb albums (they do exist). For another thing, it is all on a relatively small scale: the whole story, with lyrics written by Don Black after Webber and Rice had a falling out, explores the confused personal relationships of one young girl that take her from New York to Los Angeles and back again. The subject is not particularly overwhelming and, when you come to think of it, everything is oh so very Seventies, but neither is it stupid or overtly clichéd, and, with a subject like that, there is no risk of the attitude ever becoming overbearing.
Apart from a few brief plot-related links, the whole record does not really have the feel of a musical — more like a typically 1970s soft-rock / folk-pop album, and only Marti Webb's musical-oriented vocals betray the final stage goals of the concept. They are appropriately sweet, though, and never over-the-top (as it always happens to Webber productions as they age — starting out with technically imperfect vocalists who compensate for imperfection by actually sounding like human beings, then eventually falling into the hands of «poor man opera singers» who squeeze all the humanistic content out of them by overacting like crazy). Webb lives up to the role — the character here is not as complex as Evita, but not as fairy-tale-ish, either, and her anger, irony, sentimentality, and sadness are all believable.
And then there is some good music, too. ʽTake That Look Off Your Faceʼ, the lead-in number where the heroine reacts to the first news of her boyfriend cheating on her, went all the way to No. 3 on the UK charts when released as a single — at the height of the disco/New Wave era, despite its defiantly tradionalist melodic structure and arrangement. Actually, it bridges the gap between folk-pop and ABBA-style Europop (without the corny synthesizers), and gives the world a fine, appetizing transition from the light ("take that look off your face, I can see through your smile...") to the dark (the "couldn't wait to bring all of that bad news to my door" employs delightfully threatening chords to show us a bit of the «unsettling» side of the protagonist).
Other memorable compositions range from sappy, but modestly and stylishly touching balladry (title track) to quirky combinations of old school vaudeville with a hillbilly shuffle attitude (ʽCapped Teeth And Caesar Saladʼ) to featherlight upbeat pop ditties (ʽI'm Very You, You're Very Meʼ) and only very occasionally, a bit of a harder punch to accentuate the bad mood spells of the protagonist (ʽLet Me Finishʼ). As usual, almost each motive gets reprised at least two or three times, which may seem overkill given the album's short running length, but all of the compositions are fairly brisky themselves — this is all «small-scale» indeed, with none of Evita's sweeping orchestral runs or church chorals. So there is really plenty of time to fit in everything fittable.
If you can stand a little sentimentality, I'd at least certainly recommend Tell Me On A Sunday over... well, my personal diagnosis is that I am incurably allergic to The Sound Of Music and everything of its ilk, so, naturally, a light musical with a sentimental female protagonist, for me, is automatically stripped of any presumption of innocence there may be. Yet, in a way, this whole thing sounds more like a Carpenters album than a genuine Julie Andrews oratorio, and a fairly well-written Carpenters album with an intelligent (if not all that intellectual) concept. A nice, healthy way for the composer to close out the decade — and that entire part of his career which need not, and, quite often, should not be described with the word «cloying».
Thumbs up — for this original version: I have not heard the more recent expanded revision of Tell Me On A Sunday, but, through the powers of induction, can guess that it probably does not beat the Marti Webb show. Oh, by the way, Rod Argent, of the Zombies and Argent fame, is here on all the keyboards (he also played on the Variations album before that), and Jon Hiseman, of the jazz-rock pioneer band Colosseum fame, is on drums — one good reason for the rock music fan to seek this out (not that there is a lot of keyboard wizardry or thunderous drumming going on, but still, you never know how to please your subconscious).