Music: Burt Bacharach
New Arrangements: Kyle Riabko
Reviewer: Niall Harman
Burt Bacharach is one of the most successful composers of recent decades, scoring hit after hit throughout the sixties and beyond, making for one of the most outstanding back catalogues in popular music. So it is perhaps inevitable that his music would one day be given the jukebox musical treatment. Thankfully, Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined – which proved to be a great hit for the Menier Chocolate Factory both at its Southwark home and in the West End – does so in an unconventional manner. Instead of forcing his many hits around a story, it updates the tracks to modern hits, thanks to rearrangements by Kyle Riabko. While the lack of plot would likely have been a disappointment for those seeking a traditional musical in the West End, there are no such qualms with the cast recording, which brings together a monster collection of startlingly original Bacharach covers by a talented cast.
The album opens with an introduction from Bacharach himself, followed by Riabko taking on Anyone Who Had a Heart. It is initially jarring to hear his soft tones singing the song made famous by Cilla Black, but he easily wins listeners over. The cast come together to perform six of Bacharach’s best known hits as the show’s opening tracks, including The Look of Love, I Say a Little Prayer(in an excellent jazzy version by Stephanie McKeon an Anastacia McCleskey) and Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do). This series of hits makes for an outstanding opening for the album, and is a real highlight. Other fantastic tracks include a wonderful version of What the World Needs Now Is Love, updated to include an electric guitar solo and a thumping version of Do You Know the Way to San Jose?. McKeon and McCleskey excel themselves, with the former’s Walk on Byand the latter’s torch song rendition of Don’t Make Me Overreally standing out.
Some of these many covers are excellent, and the majority are very well executed, but occasionally you long for the enduringly wonderful original. One such case is I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself, which Riabko sings well and updates to make it sound like a modern track, but you can’t help but think of Dusty Springfield’s wonderful version. There is the additional issue that some of Bacharach’s most popular tracks have a cheesy quality, and the resulting covers reflect this. Riabko’s version of title track (originally sang by The Carpenters) is quite cloying and sickly sweet, and feels overlong, especially when the full length track is compared to the excellent mashups, and versions that sample only a verse or two of a track. The same goes for covers of Alfieand Making Love.
Riabko’s covers throw in phrases from other Bacharach tracks repeatedly; Raindrops Keep Falling On My Headis occasionally mentioned, and the cast repeatedly return to the phrase What’s It All About?from Alfie, which was the original title for the show. As the show was rechristened Close to Youfor its West End transfer, this repeated allusion to the former title now seems a little redundant. Yet this is only a minor quibble, as the allusions to other tracks and the clever mixing of hits is really outstanding, and make this album much more than your average series of covers.