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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Cry Me A River: An Ode To Subtlety

I suppose, all things considered, I should be a huge fan of Michael Buble. Along with some other notable artists he's succeeded in recent years in bringing some classic songs back to public consciousness. I'm grateful to him for that. However, his way of delivering has the habit of making me nauseous.

Take the exquisite ballad 'Cry Me A River' for example.

There have been many many versions of this song. Everyone from Shirley Bassey to Aerosmith to Joe Cocker has had a crack at it. I think for most people, though, the definitive version is Julie London's smoky performance of 1955. The rendition is so heartfelt, so quiet and mournful, that a listener can't help but be entranced by it. It reeks of subtlety. With the simplest of accompaniment London's voice shines through. No need for extravagance in this version: she sells it on voice alone.

Compare that to Buble's version.

At times he's almost drowned out by the orchestral accompaniment. Every syllable is forced at the listener; it makes me tired just listening to him. Each time the song comes on the radio I wince, I physically wince. It sounds as though he's taken a perfect classic song and debated about the best way to murder it.

Now I do have a point with this.

I don't think I'm the only writer who feels the necessity to spell out every little thing to their reader on occasion. This probably comes from a combination of doubting myself and doubting my reader. I'm well aware of what I'm trying to convey but I fear the intricacies might be lost on the audience. So instead of painting the page with light sketches of character and emotion I take a sledgehammer to the portrait and batter my reader with it until they really don't care anymore.

Of course, I'm mostly inclined to do that in a first draft. It's specifically something I look for when I'm doing my initial edit but it isn't the simplest thing to cut. After all, whacking your point home is a lot easier than subtly defining it and allowing your audience to draw their own conclusions.

At some point we have to begin trusting our readers and letting go to an extent. If we are lucky enough to get published then we can't control every little reader reaction to every aspect of our story. In a sense it becomes their story and they have the right to interpret it as they please.

Personally, I find Julie London's soulful rendition of 'Cry Me A River' a little more open to interpretation. But maybe that's just me.

Julie London singing 'Cry Me A River'

Michael Buble singing 'Cry Me A River'

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