"Some of the most appalling performances ever recorded have been the result of actors who thought they could sing, or even soliloquise successfully over music - hello William Shatner! This CD isn't nearly so bad, but it does suffer from one major problem. The songs are too good.
Actors who moonlight as decent warblers can often bring an interesting theatrical bent to a shrewdly selected tune. Moreover, karaoke is a great excuse for vandalising rock 'n' roll ditties. But it is an altogether different kettle of kitsch when enduring melodies are reworked carelessly.
Tantalising as the prospect of Gwyneth Paltrow giving voice to Bette Davis Eyes may be, this was a poor choice for her solo effort (indeed, despite the title, there are only three duets on the disc). Paltrow herself does not, of course, have Bette Davis eyes (more Grace Kelly I'd warrant), nor Kim Carne's voice. Carne's husky tone is full of elegant iniquity; Paltrow's is soft and frothy, and in this instance I'm afraid, shockingly amateurish.
When I heard this cut, and noted that later tracks included duets with Huey Lewis and Babyface I shuddered in trepidation. Fortunately, Paltrow does much better on these, holding up her end with sweet lines and harmonies that exploit her thespian deftness for communicative phrasing.
Still, why tackle something as challenging as The Temptation's Just My Imagination? It's better left for interpretation by a soul-meister like Prince (who has made it his own at famed after-show performances).
And talking of my favourite miniature marvel, another classic that he has honoured with a personal workout, is Bonnie Rait's I Can't Make You Love Me. Perhaps it's the timeless sentiment - "the pangs of despised love" as Hamlet said - or my own tragic history of unrequited infatuation with Hollywood starlets, or those poignantly descending minor-key phrases, but this song never fails to hit me where it counts.
Maria Bello has power and some technique to lay claims as a vocalist but not the subtlety required here. She also lacks the rhythmic precision to properly propel the pure pop of Sweet Dreams.
Fortunately, there are enough good moments from reverse pretender, singer-cum-actor Huey Lewis, to provide some redemption on the record. And there are wonderful offerings from Arnold McCuller and David Newnham at the tail end. But these are as minimal as they are marvellous, and simply made me wish that the rest of the CD featured less curiosity value and more of this class."
Published February 15, 2001