A major record label doesn’t often sign a new artist who’s 78 years old and nearly bald. But this performer is unusual. He’s got a girl’s first name, he draws crowds of adoring teens whenever he tours, he’s a trained dramaturge, a poet, and a virgin. Does this read like a Hedwig and the Angry Inch subplot? Oh, he’s also the Vicar of Christ. He’s Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. And he’s signed to Sony, which means His Holiness is now labelmates with Cypress Hill. And Celine Dion. And Bob Dylan, who is nearly as old as the Pope.
It sounds like one of Father Guido Sarducci’s gags, but on Abbà Pater, the Pope recites or sings prayers and homilies in five languages. There’s a good chance the Supreme Pontiff will contest Bobby Vinton’s mark for most record sales by a Polish artist; heck, on the first day of release, he probably rocketed past Henry Badowski.
But how do you review a man many consider infallible? Well, critics face this dilemma whenever there’s a new R.E.M. record, so let’s barge onward. First, His Holiness has severe pitch problems. Second, the backing music—mostly by a Leonardo De Amicis, a composer best known for his work with Riccardo Cocciante, an Italian pop star and onetime Elvis impersonator—mixes flutey space-rock, rhythmic New Age, and Gregorian chant, spanning generations to inventively combine the worst of the Moody Blues with the worst of Vangelis. Better get busy with those Hail Marys, Mr. De Amicis.
Abbà Pater, by the way, doesn’t refer to the ’70s Swedish pop act, but to Hebrew and Latin words for “father.” There is no “Dancing Queen” cover. But Sony has made a music video for the title song, and they hope it will get VH1 air play. Perhaps the network will inaugurate a new show, Pope-Up Video.