Release Date: October 7th, 1962
Words by: Peter Berris
October 9th, 2012
Do not be fooled by the title. Frank Sinatra is not All Alone. He is not even keeping modest company. He is in the middle of a somber gathering of many… and they all seem to play strings.
Thus, All Alone does not reference the number of musicians on the record, but rather reflects the thematic content of the album, which is filled with torch songs, tales of unrequited love, and tunes about romance gone wrong. Needless to say, this is not the jazzy, swinging, finger-snapping side of Sinatra. All Alone is the slow and tepid side of Sinatra's discography – a tradition that dates back at least as far as his work on Columbia records in the 40s, where the philosophy seemed to be that nearly any song could be made better with the addition of an orchestra and chorus.
Throughout All Alone, the approach is similar. A wall of strings and soft woodwind swoops in and out of the cracks between Sinatra's vocals like a big sleepy bird. The sappy, maudlin arrangements drain any potential energy from the already dreary material. As a result the entire album bleeds together into what could almost be a single long and unusually depressing song.
Only one thing keeps this album from being a dismal failure: Sinatra himself. His vocal performance is particularly effective throughout the album, and is characterized by a surprising depth of feeling. At times his voice is soft and pleading, while at others it is startlingly powerful, as if he is gaining confidence in the anguish of the material. Most striking are the brief passages where his voice is rough and ragged, charging many of the tunes with a jolt of extra emotion. Throughout All Alone, there are moments where it feels as if Sinatra is almost in a battle with the material and production values of the record—waging war against the bloated string section and hopelessly sad lyrics. The results can be quite interesting, spurring Sinatra's performance into unusual places where many singers would not think to traverse. The start of the song 'indiscreet' is indicative of Sinatra's unusual vocal attack. The song opens with the typical loud and lazy swells of violins, and in direct opposition to this Sinatra barely sings the opening lyrics at all. He almost talks his way through parts the song. This contrast between singer and orchestra may not define the album, but there are moments where Sinatra gets leaner and meaner in his performance as the rest of the affair gets increasingly ridiculous.
This is quite the accomplishment. Few musicians could deliver a performance of integrity on an album dominated by lines like "it's clear to see, that there's no hope for me," and "you promised that you'd forget me not, but you forgot to remember."Especially when those lines are reinforced at every turn by contagiously depressing arrangements.
All Alone may not be a complete failure, but it is certainly not a great success. Though Sinatra wages a strong war with his voice, All Alone is a losing battle. There are simply too many songs with too little variation in terms of theme, tempo, and production. The album is persistently depressing to the point where it is positively exhausting.
In exactly the right mood (or wrong mood for that matter) this album may be a good choice. The thematic dedication to songs of heartbreak and romantic failures may be a good soundtrack for their real life counterparts—but those who do not enjoy reveling in misfortune may want to try one of Sinatra's more swinging affairs. All Alonedemonstrates Sinatra's profound vocal talents-but even this does not make the album overly enjoyable.