Frank Sinatra’s “Where Are You?” Reviewed
I have no problem whatsoever with Frank Sinatra’s 14th album, 1957’s Where Are You? Indeed, it is, if anything, somewhat underrated. As we are now used to, Sinatra at this period of his life was recording a party album followed by a hangover album, the heights of hedonism followed by the brutal break down of romance. The standard bearer remains In The Wee Small Hours, where Frank’s personal life came face to face with his professional life, and after that the Hollywood String Quartet were featured on Close to You. Both of those were arranged and conducted, so was his previous album A Swingin’ Affair, by Nelson Riddle. In the late 1950s everything Frank was doing was going top five, everything was a hit, The swingers were life as a rat packer, the ballads, were the vision of masculinity.
Nelson Riddle wasn’t on board for Where Are You?, instead the extremely popular Gordon Jenkins was the arranger and conductor, and after the austere Wee Small and small scale Close, Jenkins swept everything before him in flush and lovely orchestrations. Some of these songs we know well, “The Night We Called It A Day,” “Laura,” certainly “Autumn Leaves,” still the majority of the songs are less well known. Frank Sinatra co-wrote “I’m A Fool To Want You” (in 1952, so no prizes for guessing who that was about) and is a new one to me though like the sweeping out the ashes of love of the momentous ache of love, it is of a piece with the other songs.
Wee Small holds within it an assumption that Sinatra was truly bearing a part of himself, he has claimed he was, but years later we can no longer buy into the snapshot of devastation that was Wee and so part of the genius, and the genius is all vocal, is that he manages to place every inch of himself on the line here. When he stretches a syllable he is stretching himself on a grave, when he lowers his voice he tumbles into nothingness and when he raises his voices he is tangling with God and losing.
This is a much better album than A Swingin’ Affair, the songs are fresher and his skills are astounding, they are so filled with feeling, negative feeling,it is like a surge and is like a lesson: that behind the rat pack veneer of strength lies not weakness but a complete emotional commitment, and in the midst of a Mad Men time, the start of a calming into women’s rights begins with the processing of emotional devastation that a woman may have over a man. I don’t know how men (or women but… men) processed this information. Sure, there have been songs about philogyny before but there was always a distance between singer and song and here there is none, it is all relentless loss: women are not the answer or the question, they are that which isn’t there, and in that sense, they are god like. Their power is absolute and the title track is as straightforward a question mark as you will ever find,
The album cover has Sinatra wrapped in the crux of his elbow, a cigarette burning in his hand, like his romantic dreams, going up in smoke. But that’s not all, he looks tired, his hairline is receding and he is growing old and weary. Where Are You is a transformation album, an alchemist of something great to something nihilistically (I mean the word in a literal sense) now no more. It is an album of absence.