Sunday, December 7, 2008

I'm Alive!

Even as a kid, I found Tom Jones kind of cheesy. It's Not Unusual wasn't too bad, if a little before my time, but it led to his variety show, and it appeared that he had moved into Vegas lounge act territory before he ever got a real career off the ground. And, at least for kids my age, there was nothing cool about variety shows, and Vegas lounge acts were even more uncool.

And then he pretty much disappeared. Oh, you knew he was out there, and he gained a kind of retro-coolness (especially when he recorded Prince's Kiss), and he's certainly pulled down a lot of money at the MGM Grand. Somewhere along the way he evolved into legend (to the point of being knighted); as a result, he was even more out of the mainstream. You might recognize the power of the vocals, it was kind of pleasant to hear one of his old songs come on the radio (even the most schmaltzy ones), but he was not what you might call a presence in the industry.

This past week Tom Jones released a new album, and I've seen him on Leno and Kimmel. In each case, he's performed his new single, I'm Alive. Now, if you knew that this was originally a Tommy James and the Shondells tune, and you saw the lyrics included such gems as, "Na na, na na na-na, na na, na na na-na," you could be excused for thinking, Ick!

And yet. When I watched the performance on the Tonight show, and again on Kimmel, I have to say I was intrigued. To see this 68-year-old belting out "I'm Alive!," or "I'm a Man!" is to see a man who's not retreating back to the hits of his youth. This song comes right out of the gate yelling; there's no easing in with tinkling piano. It's horns and guitar and big bongos, and the big voice of Tom Jones coming right at you, and it's what rock and roll is supposed to be, a shouting and a screaming and a defiance and a desire to knock over the cameras, the set, all of it. Darn, I hate it when my categorizations are overturned, now I have to take Tom Jones seriously again. Anyway, check it out - I still can't believe I was so impressed by it.

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