"..and I can't win, but here I am - more than glad to be unhappy"
Sinatra is golden. For the last handful of decades he has managed to be known as one of the few superstars of the music industry. As innovative as Lennon, as vogue as Astaire and as charming as Presley - Sinatra represents the embodiment of stardom that few, if any, can rival.
However the immortality of Sinatra has not, as many believe, existed for long. After being labelled as the most hated man of the 40's, weathering more slack from American GIs than even Hitler - Sinatra's career began to decline. As the intriguing and devastating decade of the 1940's halted to a stop, Sinatra's long road of failures and controversies began to creep up on him. The rope of fame he so quickly scaled previously had been cut, and so too was his career.
After being dumped by Columbia and MCA Records in 1952 and suffering a messy and slow break down of his scandelous romance with Ava Gardner - many critics placed Sinatra at rock bottom.
This was all until Sinatra, battling with depression, bit back with one of the most revolutionary albums of all time. The first concept album, and arguably the first mainstream album to show genuine suffering and melancholy emotion; In the Wee Small Hours was a record that allowed Sinatra to dash back into fame and popularity - and remains one of the most thought provoking and personal albums ever produced.
As soon as the introspective, almost lullaby like, bells of the opener In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning sound - it is evidently clear that Sinatra is suffering. As his weathered and suddenly vulnerable voice croaks:
"When your lonely heart has learned its lesson, you'd be hers - if only she would call. In the wee small hours of the morning, that's the time you miss her the most of all."
As one darkly beautiful song rolls into the other, listeners are placed right beside Sinatra as he opens his heart and tells of his struggles. For the first time in his career - he seemed like a man. His charm filled arrogance almost disappears as his suddenly aged voice softly inflects his emotional fragility.
Sonically, In the Wee Small Hours is superb. A feeling of midnight is carried through the record with lazy horns and sleepy bells chiming almost reluctantly across a dreamy sound scape. Songs such as Can't we be Friends? possess dark stilted piano - as if written by a jazzy Beethoven - with Sinatra's voice jumping from octave to octave while he struggles beautifully with his own message.
With understated production, the arrangements do just enough to engulf the listener - without taking anything away from the real star of the production - Sinatra himself. Sinatra's inflection is simply unrivaled. In his delivery of particular lyric, especially those within I Get Along Without You Very Well, he seems as if he is attempting to convince himself - attempting to heal himself - as he exclaims:
"I've forgotten you just like I should. Of course I have. Except to hear your name - or when someone's laughs the same.. But I've forgotten you just like I should".
In the Wee Small Hours is a testament to music as an artform. Possessing the acclaim of being one of the first concept albums, it revolutionised the music industry perhaps more than any other album. With this record, Sinatra and Capitol Records single handedly introduced the emphasis on creating records and treating them as art - in an era where "albums" were simply compilations of various well known songs from various recording sessions, utterly devoid of any complex emotion.
The record is a glaring reminder of the importance of humanity in music. Sinatra's unashamed and heartbreaking message of loneliness, midnight, lust and regret transcends his own spirit and touches others, for perhaps the first time in the Twentieth Century.
"I cry my heart out - it's bound to break. Since nothing matters - let it break. I'll ask the sun and the moon, the stars that shine: What's to become of it, this love of mine?"