In 2005, Jamie Cullum released his third studio album, Catching Tales, which was fantastic and well-received, but much like his two prior albums, Pointless Nostalgic and Twentysomething, not very popular. Then, Cullum semi-fell off the radar, but kept touring, collaborating with his brother Ben, DJ’ing at nightclubs, and writing music for films.
The Pursuit is largely the product of that hiatus, and it’s well worth the waits (first for its release in November and second for its release in North America Tuesday). Unlike fellow crooner Michael Bublé’s latest album Crazy Love (which, though fantastic, is almost all covers), all but four of the songs on the 12-track album are original. Even then, two of them (Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” and “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd) are modern songs. Cullum flexes his musical muscles quite well, creating an eclectic album flowing with creativity and energy.
The album begins with the Cole Porter classic “Just One of those Things,” with an added introduction by Cullum. The Count Basie Orchestra are full of brass (in the “track-by-track interview that comes along with live performances on the DVD of the Delxue Edition, Cullum said he literally fell off of his piano stool on the first take) and Cullum and the band are absolutely swingin’, a theme that continues on the fifth track, “You and Me are Gone” (which features one of the greatest credits in the history of liner notes, The Band for “handclaps and general revelry”). It continues with Cullum’s second single, “I’m All Over It,” which starts simply and gets larger as the song goes along, having the makings of a great pop song (if it ever got airplay), as does his third track, “Wheels”, which conveys excellently his views of the planet with a great chorus (“tell you what I’ve heard, the wheels are falling off/the wheels are falling off the world”) and fantastic drum beat (evoking the sound of a train). “If I Ruled the World,” the classic Tony Bennett song, is beautifully reinvented from a song of happiness to a song of longing, much like “Not While I’m Around.”
The major part of the album, though, is basically Cullum’s “What I Did Over the Last Five Years” essay – combining blues with techno – and it is an amazing sound to hear. “Don’t Stop the Music,” much like Cullum’s live cover of “Umbrella”, is a cover holding true to the song but putting Cullum’s own imprint on it (along with an exploding piano on the music video and the cover of the album). “Mixtape” is a rocking song on music – his love of a variety of acts, “from Nine Inch Nails to Louie Armstrong.” “We Run Things” and, moreso, “Music Is Through” (the latter of which was actually a song written by Jamie and Cullum for their DJ’ing/concert act) are rollicking songs filled with an electronic vibe – interesting when you remember that Cullum is afraid of technology, sticking mainly to vinyl and audiocassettes, and even naming his self-built England recording studio “Terrified Studios”.
Far and away my favorite song on the album, though, is “I Think, I Love.” Sharing the sound of a answering machine message, it is a beautiful tune that, despite her mishaps, he still loves his significant other, even her so-called imperfections. It just makes me want to start writing songs for people. A song that’s a bit of a letdown is “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down,” which is a bit too slow for my tastes.
In addition, the Deluxe Edition of The Pursuit comes with four bonus songs: “I Love This,” a cute, happy little B-side; the beautiful themes to the Clint Eastwood films Gran Torino (a song I performed at a poetry reading last year) and Grace is Gone; and a live version of “Don’t Stop The Music” from the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel (where Cullum began his North American tour), showing his incredible ability as a live act. Using his piano as his playground, he slaps, strums, and – gasp! – plays his way to a great reinvention of a great reinvention.
Jamie Cullum’s The Pursuit is available now on iTunes and at Best Buy…any other places, it’s a bit of a crapshoot.
Join me next week for the next installment of the Saturday Night Stuff I Like, when I discuss my enjoyment for the life and times of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz of Phineas and Ferb.