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Now this album was an unusual purchase for me - I wouldn't say I'm a fan of the classical genre of music per se, some I love and some I loathe. If you take a look at my iPod there are a range of artists, and among the Jessie J, Elvis, Bob Marley and even One Direction (but that's a secret between you and me), you'll also find Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo, and Hayley Westenra. So you see, my tastes lean towards the more modern operatic rather than the traditional theatrical style.
I don't mind the traditional type if I have something I can relate it to, and my very limited knowledge of the traditional classical genre mainly comes from adverts; as in Canon in D by Pachelbel (British wool) and Bach's Air on a G String (Hamlet cigars), oh the shame! My family laughed at me when I first downloaded this, but with the historical summer we were expecting last year, how could I not? We had to have something patriotic to play at all those glorious diamond jubilee barbeques and Olympic themed parties didn't we? :)
I purchased this from Amazon as it was cheaper than iTunes at the time, and much cheaper than buying on CD. This has changed though as it's fallen out of favour, and it's cheaper on physical copy at £3.30 with free delivery, versus £6.49 for digital download.
Russell Watson has never been an artist I've favoured. Despite coming from a working class background and working his way his way slowly through the ranks, he didn't ingratiate himself to me, and he always seemed sycophantic. Since his battle with brain tumours, he has seemed to find humility within himself and I find myself liking the person behind the music a little more.
Rather oddly the first track on this album is called Race to the end. Originally performed by Demis Rousos, this is the familiar theme tune to the film Chariots of Fire, yet it was a poor rendition in my eyes. I thought the opening seconds were slow and mediocre but as the song evolves you begin to hear the passion ebb and flow as the tempo moves along. Watsons singing seems to come alive and just when you think, 'Yes this is it!', it wans and feels a little lacklustre again.
Obviously, it isn't just England that should have felt that unbridled patriotism; it was the whole of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. To ensure no corner felt left out, there are songs which are familiar with certain regions - Jerusalem (England), Danny Boy (Ireland), Flower of Scotland (for obvious reasons) and Calon Lan for Wales which is sang in Welsh rather than with the English translation. I had the download version, so I can't double check but I presume it's the Welsh Male Voice Choir that performs with Russell on this track.
I wasn't familiar with the last song I mentioned, but all the tracks remaining are the reason why I purchased this album in the first place. The White Cliffs of Dover, performed with Dame Vera Lynn has a sweetness and naivety to it when Russell is singing, there's none of this namby pamby operatic stuff, I almost didn't realise it was him; and then Vera kicks in with her classic tones and vibrato. She seems to get better and better as she ages, and we should treasure her like the icon she is, while she's still around to do it.
The introduction to Land of Hope and Glory seem to be set to an old 45rpm (or 33) record, as you get the richness of sound and that glorious crackle that CD's/MP3's don't have. Then Russell starts to sing as you would expect him to when opening a ceremony of some sort or other. The words never fail to send a chill down my spine every time I hear it.
We Are the Champions by Queen, The World in Union by Charlie Scarbek, and Proud, originally performed by Heather Small set the scene for the Olympics rather than Queen's diamond Jubilee. Proud though has been totally revamped in this track, it's not what you expect from Watson, it has the same familiar ring to Small's version, but it lacks oomph and energy in my opinion, it plods along with a lethargy about it. It's been spoiled for me anyway, as every time I hear the lines 'What have you done today to make you feel proud?' I imagine that character from the sitcom Miranda, singing it. She'd have been a much better choice, Sorry Russell :)
There is a short instrumental of God Save the Queen to finish, but even that lacks the intensity I've heard it played with before. I think I've covered everything on the album now, all except one track, Nimrod, Elgar's amazing Variation IX. This is overlaid with Russell speaking the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling. While the two go wonderfully together, Russell's monotonous expression belies the stoicism and depth of feeling. It seems like a waste of an opportunity here, I know the title of the album is Russell Watson's Anthems but, and it's a big but, I don't think he should have performed this track at all; it's too big for him. For someone who can perform operatic compositions with such fervour, why oh why when he speaks does he make me want to go to sleep? I love that you can hear his accent and that he's one of the common people, the sort of people that made Britain what it is today; but his voice is so damn dreary, it's lifeless and has no soul.
All in all, this album got a fair bit of use last year, what with everything going on; more than I expected anyway. It might get some use this year too with it being 60 years since Her Majesty's coronation, and all that. I got my money's worth certainly, but I wouldn't buy it at full price; I don't think it's worth it. In my opinion Russell Watson's performances weren't strong enough on some of the tracks. I would say that this is one for die hard Russell Watson fans, and super-patriotic middle aged women like myself. Here comes another but, BUT, at £3.30 postage and packing included, you can't go wrong - Let's hope Murray wins Wimbledon so we can play it again.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Race to the end
2 Swing low sweet chariot
3 We are the champions
4 World in union
5 Abide with me
6 Danny Boy
7 White cliffs of Dover with Dame Vera Lynn
8 Calon Lan
10 Flower of Scotland
11 Land of Hope and Glory
12 Nimrod 'If' Rudyard Kipling
14 God Dave the Queen