Get the Party Started
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Reviewed by Will Harris
If the idea of a 71-year-old woman singing a cover of Pink’s “Get the Party Started” sounds like your idea of sheer karaoke hell, you’ve clearly underestimated the vocal prowess of Dame Shirley Bassey. The title track is a masterwork, opening with the swirling strains of a spy-movie theme to remind the listener of Dame Shirley’s history, then giving her the opportunity blow the roof off the joint, which she gladly takes. There’s something particularly cute about hearing her giggle slightly when she has to sing the word “ass” (as in, “I\'ll be burning rubber, you\'ll be kissing my ass”); you can imagine the entire dance floor covering their mouths en masse in mock embarrassment. Like much of Paul Anka’s Rock Swings album, “Get the Party Started” manages to sidestep kitsch and succeed as a result of Bassey’s power as a performer, and things continue solidly when she follows the Pink cover by revisiting one of her own big hits: “Big Spender,” the signature number from the musical “Sweet Charity” that Bassey released as a single in 1967.
Alas, the success of these two tracks doesn’t carry the album all the way through, though it’s not for lack of trying; its problem lies in its well-intentioned desire to be all things to all manner of Bassey fans. “Big Spender” isn’t the only song from her back catalog to receive a makeover: “I (Who Have Nothing),” “What Now My Love,” and “Kiss Me, Honey, Honey, Kiss Me” score the same treatment, and the attempted modernization doesn’t always work in their favor. It’s not Ethel Merman Disco Album bad (although “What Now My Love” comes close), but it shows how quickly someone can go from looking like a hip elder stateswoman to seeming woefully irrelevant in the scope of only a few songs. Attempts to meld Bassey’s style to covers of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” fail as well.
Still, it must be said that Get the Party Started is one of those when-it-works-boy-does-it-work albums that rebounds so strongly on certain tracks that it remains worth your time. While the idea of having Bassey tackle someone else’s Bond theme – Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” – would seem on the surface to be nothing but a case of overreaching, it turns out to be a jazzy highlight of the record. Similarly, Dame Shirley pulls off successful covers of Grace Jones’ “Slave to the Rhythm” and Michael Bolton’s “Can I Touch You There.” The lone new composition on the album, “The Living Tree,” gave Bassey a hit single in the UK, and it was well-deserved, even if you have to admit that, once again, it’s a song that’s been intentionally designed to sound like a lost Bond theme. But, hey, why mess with what works, right?
Ah, if only more of the album had followed the same line of reasoning.