Rod Stewart in reverse? Close, but not quite: Paul Anka was never a standards cat, but the singer-songwriterliest of late-’50s teen idols, gradually turned Vegas fixture. Even now, he’s no purist. The liner notes to Rock Swings credit a Pro Tools engineer and a vocal editor with shaping Anka’s Sinatra-guided interpretations of ’80s-’90s repertoire: A snatch of “The Best Is Yet to Come” announces Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life,” with its chorus nod to Frank’s “My Way”—which Anka, don’t forget, wrote. “Tears From Heaven” is unsalvageable, and several attempts to negotiate impressionistic lyrics (Spandau Ballet’s “True,” Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face”) as though they possessed narrative content are comically misguided. But the rave-ups—”Jump,” “Eye of the Tiger,” “Wonderwall”—atone for the ballads, with Anka in full lion-in-winter cry, horn charts that cross Billy May’s wit with Don Costa’s punch, and veteran drummer Vinnie Coliauta showboating like John Bonham risen from the grave for the midnight show at Caesar’s Palace. When Rock Swings works, it’s because Anka either doesn’t know or doesn’t care which of these songs are supposed to signify as alternative—five decades on, it’s all showbiz to him. And his “Black Hole Sun” cuts Lea DeLaria’s.
Paul Anka plays the Westbury Music Fair’s North Fork Theatre August 10.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 26, 2005