Following her career-defining set at Glastonbury, the success of her cover of Pink's "Get the Party Started," and Kanye West's recent sampling of "Diamonds Are Forever," legendary Welsh powerhouse vocalist Shirley Bassey is perhaps more relevant than she has been since the early '70s. Her 34th studio release, The Performance, continues her unexpected career resurgence by drafting in a whole host of contemporary pop/rock performers and songwriters to pen 11 brand new compositions, the first time Bassey has recorded an album full of original material in over 20 years. Of course, Bassey is no stranger to collaborations, having guested on the Propellerheads' wondrous '60s big-beat anthem "History Repeating" and Swiss electronic duo Yello's 1987 hit "The Rhythm Divine." But instead of furthering Bassey's dance diva credentials, The Performance is an understated and timeless affair which befits her elegant and grandiose status. Produced by David Arnold who, like Bassey, is responsible for some of the most impressive James Bond themes, The Performance successfully modernizes her iconic, sweeping, orchestral sound without ever resorting to unnecessary studio trickery or inappropriate attempts at "getting down with the kids". The Rufus Wainwright-penned "Apartment" is a glorious slice of flamenco, full of Spanish guitars, jazz horns, and gypsy rhythms, which instantly transports you to the streets of Andalusia; fellow countrymen Manic Street Preachers' autobiographical tale "The Girl from Tiger Bay" echoes the Phil Spector-influenced symphonic rock of their 1996 classic Everything Must Go; while the closing track, "The Performance of My Life," a fragile, show-stopping torch song which apparently reduced Bassey to tears while recording it, continues the Pet Shop Boys' impressive track record of writing for female icons, following their work with Dusty Springfield and Liza Minnelli. Elsewhere, Bassey performs tracks written by Gary Barlow (the Burt Bacharach-esque "This Time"), John Barry (the cinematic lounge-pop of "Our Time Is Now"), and the sole female contributor, KT Tunstall (the country-rock-led "Nice Men"), with the same vigor and gusto as she did in her prolific '60s heyday. Like the recent material from Wales' other enduring pop icon, Tom Jones, The Performance proves that age is no barrier, and an 52 years after her debut, Born to Sing the Blues, the number one Dame in Pop is producing some of the best music of her career.
© Jon O'Brien /TiVo