Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Nilsson 3: Aerial Ballet

Harry Nilsson’s third album followed on closely from the last one; it’s very polite, with plenty of overly cute touches and vocal gymnastics. Aerial Ballet is an apt title, as it consists of high-wire feats designed to stun and amaze. There’s even a tapdancing routine that frames the album.

Removed from the album so as not to compete with the Monkees’ version but since restored, “Daddy’s Song” follows the same template as “1941” from the last album (“I loved my daddy but he left and now I’m sad”). It’s said that the initials of “Good Old Desk” make it an ode to a certain deity, which goes way over our heads, but while we’d like to hear the piano chords removed from the rest of the arrangement, when the strings come in, they’re lovely. “Don’t Leave Me” has some lovely dynamics between the verse and the chorus, but the scat sections, again, grate. While he hadn’t hit such a level of fame yet, “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song” is an astute diatribe about the fickleness of it all that dissolves into yet another scat detour. “Little Cowboy” is supposed to be a lullaby, but the clippety-clop effect sounds like parody, and when you factor in the horns, good luck getting the kid to sleep. “Together” finally blends words and music well for a good track, and no scatting!

Up till now the album has focused on his own songwriting, but side two starts with the classic “Everybody’s Talkin’”, two years before its use in Midnight Cowboy and originally written by folkie Fred Neil. It’s followed by the next best song on the album, “I Said Goodbye To Me”, at least until the lyrics are echoed, literally, by a spoken track, but then we’re subjected to a reprise of “Little Cowboy” dominated by virtuosic whistling. “Mr. Tinker” (who was a tailor, ho ho) is another character study that’s mostly notable for a vocal hook that foreshadows “One”, which comes after. While not as overwrought (or as effective) as the hit Three Dog Night version, its arrangement more closely follows the busy-signal mode that inspired the track. “The Wailing Of The Willow” is more Bacharach bossa nova, pleasant and not offensive, whereas “Bath” is one of the happiest songs about a having a hangover, yet still thinks a variation on “doo-wacka-doo” comprises an actual chorus.

Aerial Ballet tries very hard to impress, but he’s still an acquired taste. It’s telling that for such a short album, it seems a lot longer.

Nilsson Aerial Ballet (1968)—

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