By Marty Mulrooney
Paul Carrack is a singer/songwriter that I imagine many people will have heard over the years, perhaps without even realising. The former Mike + The Mechanics vocalist breathed life into such hits as How Long by Ace and Tempted by Squeeze, and has written for artists such as The Eagles, Tom Jones and Jools Holland. A Different Hat is Carrack’s latest solo effort, an album that allows him to reinterpret his own back catalogue, as well as the classic hits of numerous other musicians he admires, whilst being accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
I have been in awe of Paul Carrack’s voice since my childhood. Tempted by Squeeze is one of my favourite songs of all time. Without fail, Over My Shoulder and The Living Years by Mike + The Mechanics always get turned up high whenever they start to play on the car radio. There is a beautiful everyman quality to his voice that is undeniable.
Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today
The first track of A Different Hat sets the tone for the entire album. Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today has been covered many times, yet with Carrack’s voice we finally get to experience it engulfed in a smokey, velvety quality that completely transforms the entire song. It is such a strong opening that I listened to it several times before continuing onward with the album. I may even prefer it to Newman’s original recording…
The success of inclusions such as Moon River and I Can’t Make You Love Me are forgone conclusions; Carrack’s voice is capable of being both gentle and powerful at the same time. He can take well known, well covered songs and still manage to completely make them his own. If the entire album had consisted of such tracks, it would have provided a pleasant, yet safe listen. Thankfully, he pushes things further.
I live on a battlefield
Surrounding by the ruins of a love we built
And them destroyed between us
The smoke has cleared
As I stumble through the rubble
I’m dazed, seeing double
And I’m truly mystified
The original I Live On A Battlefield, recorded by Carrack in 1989, had an upbeat, electronic sound to it that made it infectiously catchy. Perhaps too catchy: the lyrics were always more downbeat beneath it all, trying to rise up to the surface. The track’s new incarnation here is exquisite, much slower in tempo, allowing the haunting lyrics to finally come to the fore.
Peggy Lee’s I Don’t Know Enough About You is wisely not tinkered with, having stood the test of time amazingly well. Elsewhere, Nat King Cole’s For All We Know is slightly sped up and given extra layers with terrific results. Carrack’s own It Ain’t Over ends things on a high, the cherry on top of an album that manages to take a wide range of aging material and successfully bring it bang up to date.
Conductor and arranger on the album David Cullen admits during the CD notes that he initially didn’t have a clue who Paul Carrack was prior to agreeing to the project. Yet, just like I am sure many listeners of this album will agree, once he heard Carrack’s voice he was instantly taken aback by his “rich, warm voice.” It seems such a shame that Paul Carrack is still a relatively undiscovered gem. Then again, perhaps that is the key to his success: the music always comes first. My only complaint is that I wish there had been some faster tunes included: his reserved singing style remains enchanting, but I occasionally wished he would just let rip.
9 OUT OF 10