Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Good Music

4 December 2011

    I maintain that when a jazz singer covers a pop song it is always better than the original. One of the tracks on Jamie Cullum’s recent album, a cover of Rhianna’s“Don’t Stop the Music”, is no exception. “Don’t Stop the Music” is one of the many tracks on Cullum’s fifth studio album, The Pursuit, that take Cullum’s already note-worthy career to a whole new level.

    Jamie Cullum has long defied genre. In The Pursuit, he stretches definition of jazz even further than he already has, not only covering a Rhianna song, but also songs originally written for musicals. Cullum covers “Just One of Those Things” originally written by Cole Porter for the 1935 musical Jubilee, “If I Ruled the World” from the West End musical Pickwick, and “Not While I’m Around” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The cover of the Sondheim song is most impressive due to the fact that the original was written for a singer who an extremely high range. Cullum, however, is able to pull the song off by singing it in a much lower key. Also genre defying is Cullum’s original song “Music is Through”, a seven minute song that sounds like it belongs piping through the sound system of a dance club, rather than on a jazz album.

    Even Cullum’s “jazzier” songs are have a pop feel to them. “We Run Things” has dominating drum beat and a computerized rumbling sound that builds through out the song. The explosion happens at the chorus then dies down for each verse. “You and Me are Gone” starts off with the piano and the drum just sort of jamming, but as the song begins it builds in pop sound. It also features excellent vocals by Cullum which are usually forgotten about due to his amazing piano skills which are also very impressive in this song. However, the piano is noticeably quieter in this song than his other songs. “Wheels” has drum beat playing for most of the song that legitimately sounds like a train chugging down the tracks. “Wheels” features a simple piano melody, bold vocals, and lyrics that tell of a world that gone off the tracks and is simply a fun song to listen to. Another fun tune from The Pursuit is “Mixtape.” This track tells the tale of man making his love a mixtape in a world of digital audio. The nostalgia of this song combined with the upbeat tempo and masterful piano and drumming makes the listener want to dig out their old boom-box and make their special someone a mixtape. “I Love This” is another song on the album that has a mellow romantic feel to it. It is a simple song, but yet has a quality about it that makes the listener yearn to sing along and tap their foot. Featuring lyrics like “I think that you could mend my broken heart/Cause I love this”, it is a song that most people can relate too, the feeling of euphoria upon discovering a new love. Probably Cullum’s biggest hit off of the album is “I’m All Over It”, a bouncy tune about the feeling of getting over a broken heart. The vocals, the piano, and the drums all have a very similar sound and rhythm, but as the song progresses they each have their moments where they break from the norm and have their own bold moment.

    Offsetting the peppy songs previously mentioned are a couple slower, more traditional-jazz-like songs. “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down” and “I Think, I Love” are nice break from the more upbeat songs. “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down” is a triumphant song of new love. There is a soft drum beat and more instruments, such as horns, heard than in the rest of the songs on the album. “I Think, I Love” starts off with Jamie Cullum breathing so deeply it is picked up by the recording equipment and a soft piano intro. It is a song a simple song that tells of memories of a relationship and how that relationship grew into love. 

    Depending on the edition of The Pursuit, the album may come with bonus tracks. The US Deluxe Edition of The Pursuit features the bonus tracks “Gran Torino”, “Grace is Gone”, and a live version of “Don’t Stop the Music.” “Gran Torino” is a Golden Globe nominated song Cullum wrote with Clint Eastwood for the movie Gran Torino. One of the other bonus tracks is also from a movie. “Grace is Gone” is from the movie of the same name. Both “Gran Torino” and “Grace is Gone” are beautiful, simple, and slow songs. The live version of “Don’t Stop the Music” was not recorded in front of an audience, but is an unedited version of the song featuring just Cullum and no band. Cullum not only plays the piano keys in this version of the song, but also bangs on the piano with his hands to use it as a drum and plucks and strums the strings of the piano, showing off his versatility as a performer.

    Cullum shows why he slowly gaining fame in The Pursuit. He can play a wide variety of genres and songs while staying true to his style. The Pursuit is an excellent album featuring not only original songs, but also covers of songs. While his original songs are excellent, his covers steal the show. Cullum is currently in the studio working on another album. One can only hope it will feature a cover of a Britney Spears’ song because it would be very interesting to see what he would do with “Oops... I Did It Again” or “Gimme More.”