tremble clef

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Dina Carroll, "The Perfect Year" (1993)

I've always liked that episode of Friends in which Phoebe first meets David, the geeky physicist played by Hank Azaria. Sitcom time, of course, is compressed time, so they fall in love immediately, and are clearly meant for each other. But David has to go to Minsk, as geeky physicists are wont to. At the gang's New Year Eve's party, therefore, Phoebe tells him that he has to break up with her for the sake of his career. He says he can't do it, but Phoebe, heartbreakingly, teaches him how, because it is so much easier doing this to yourself in the second person: "And then you put your arms around me. And then you tell me that you love me and you'll never forget me." At this point something usually flies into my eye. "And then you say," she further directs David, "that it's almost midnight, and you have to go because you don't want to start the new year with me if you can't finish it."

"The Perfect Year" details, essentially, the same moment. "It's New Year's Eve, and hopes are high/Dance one year in, kiss one goodbye/Another chance, another start/So many dreams to tease the heart." It is, again, the moment when we cross from one year to another, an arbitrary point of time that is no less powerful for that arbitrariness. The song began life as a big, manipulative ballad from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of Sunset Boulevard. First Patti LuPone, and then of course Glenn Close sang it as Norma Desmond, but it was Dina Carroll, sensing an opportunity, who covered the song quickly at the end of 1993 and released it as a single (and, with it going top 5 in the UK, topped off what would be her most -- and perhaps only -- successful year, with preceding big hits like "Special Kind Of Love" and "Don't Be A Stranger"). "We don't need a crowded ballroom/Everything we need is here/If you're with me/Next year will be, the perfect year."

That this sentiment recurs in at least these two places makes it a cheap sentiment. And "The Perfect Year," in all its versions, is cheap music. There is, for one, a sappy sax solo in the middle. But there is also a perfectly-timed pause right before Dina sings "the perfect year," as if she is just a little hesitant, that tells us that she is wishing for, rather than fully believing in, what she is singing. But I am one for cheap sentiments and cheap music, as you'll already have been already to tell from the paraphrase of Noel Coward over to your right, and never more so than at the end of a year.


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