ALBUM REVIEW #1 – In the Wee Small Hours

ALBUM TITLE: In the Wee Small Hours

ARTIST NAME: Frank Sinatra

YEAR OF RELEASE: 1955

Favourite Song

Holly: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

Kelly: Mood Indigo

ALBUM HISTORY:

This depressing record is Sinatra’s 9th studio album. It was recorded at a time in Sinatra’s career where he had just divorced his second wife (Ava Gardner), and the public at large saw him as a washed-up has-been. Somehow, this album saved his career. 

In the Wee Small Hours is considered to be Sinatra’s first “concept” album. Later in his  career he would explore such concepts as space and the planets, and his own past as a concept. Seriously though, check out the weird, spacey concept album, it’s a trip: https://ww w.youtube.com/watch?v=b16kxkSdoWc 

This album of serious songs was something Sinatra had been considering for almost a decade. He made the decision to release his catchier, more upbeat songs as singles for radio play and jukeboxes, and keep his more serious numbers for full albums. 

In the Wee Small Hours was recorded before stereo recording was a thing, so its mono recording is heard to some ears to give it a more intimate, warm, and personal feel. 

ARTIST HISTORY:

Francis Albert Sinatra (1915-1998) was one the most popular and influential musicians of the 20th century. He is also one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide. 

Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, and started his music career in the swing bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. He signed with Columbia Records as a solo artist in 1943, and became the idol of young bobby soxers everywhere. In the early 1950s, he moved his professional career to Las Vegas and became a part of the Rat Pack. He won an Academy Award for his work in the film From Here to Eternity alongside his then second wife, Ava Gardner. 

In 1960, Sinatra left Capitol Records and started his own label, Reprise Records, where he was able to record a string of successful records. Sinatra retired for the first time 11 years later, but then came out of retirement to record several albums and continue performing at Caesars Palace. This is the point in his career where he released his MOST famous song, New York, New York. He continued touring and performing all the way up until his death in 1998.

FACTOID CORNER:

  • If you want a deeper dive into Sinatra and concept albums, check out the Podcast, You Must Remember This, by Karina Longworth. On the second episode, Frank Sinatra in Outer Space, you’ll get a hell of a journey through what must be Sinatra’s weirdest album. 
  • Sinatra was investigated by the FBI for alleged ties to the mafia.
  • Frank Sinatra never learned to read music.

Holly’s review:

I’ve never really liked Frank Sinatra, but I thought I should put in a strong effort, especially since it’s the first album on this list. So I listened, and tried to like his pompous, un-nuanced voice. Nope. Still don’t like him. 

It’s considered to be his first “concept” album, which is a good thing, I guess. I found it to be one slow, sad, depressing dirge of a song after another. And I just can’t hear Sinatra’s singing as genuine. It’s just so sickeningly suave. This can’t be a DeCaigny thing. Aren’t there other people in the world who share this opinion?

Alas, I should point out the positives. Some of the arrangements are pretty cool. It definitely sounds like the arranger, Nelson Riddle, was directed to make sure the orchestra parts stay firmly in the background, but there are some cool moments. Another positive…..uhhhh….I kind of like the cover art. 

Kelly’s review:

Ok, unpopular opinion – I don’t like Frank Sinatra.  I don’t think he’s a bad singer or has a totally unpleasant voice or anything, I just don’t get the appeal.  Having said that, I tried to go into this album with an open mind.  Maybe in my old age, my opinion of Ol’ Blue Eyes would have changed, I would have matured into some Sinatra appreciation…turns out, I haven’t.

The first track is the title track, which I actually like, and reminds me of high school vocal jazz (our high school music teacher is an incredible vocal arranger and did like, a 6 part arrangement of this song.  I sang 3rd soprano).  Then came Mood Indigo, which is a great song!  At this point, I still hadn’t warmed up to his voice.  Then, in the middle of cleaning my kitchen I checked to find which track I was on because I felt like a lot of time had passed – nope, song six of FIFTEEN.  One would think an album this track heavy would present a lot of dynamic and stylistic variation.  Different arrangements.  Different instrumentations.  Nope.  Not even different tempo or song structure.  Every song starts with Frank crooning languidly through some sort of recitative before launching into the body of the song, backed by an orchestra with plenty of mellow chimes and bells and vibes.  Every song is sung the same way.  I would have liked maybe a stripped down version of a song, just Frank and a hot trio of piano, bass and some brushes on a snare drum.  I was absolutely thirsting for an uptempo number, something fun, or at least angry (this is a divorce record, after all).  I’ve read that Frank was a hot tempered, incorrigible piece of shit in real life, I would have loved to hear some vitriol in a song!  Instead what we get is what feels like the same song, the same voice, the same arrangement fifteen times over.

The positives – the orchestration is great.  Whoever wrote the orchestration and instrumentation really had a grasp on how to create a mellow mood.

Maybe I’m just not in the right mood for this record.  My love life is currently going great.  Maybe if I’d just been dumped, I would have appreciated it more, but at this point in my life, naw.

Grades out of 10:

Holly: 3/10

Kelly: 4/10

Link to the album on Spotify:

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