Upon reaching 70 this year, Andrew Lloyd Webber is clearly in a reflective mood and hot on the heels of his autobiography Unmasked released last week, comes this new compilation album Unmasked: The Platinum Collection. Available physically as a 2CD or 4CD version (the latter with a 40-page book of liner notes and tributes), this collection looks back on a career spanning nearly 50 years and features some new twists on the material as well as reminding us of the old favourites.
Over the four discs, 17 of Lloyd Webber’s shows are represented here (Jesus Christ Superstar tops the list with eight tracks, Evita and Phantom just behind), alongside assorted one-off songs (such as ‘Amigos Para Siempre’ from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Gary Barlow co-write ‘Sing’ from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee). But for ALW fans it will be the unreleased stuff that makes the mouth water – five new orchestral suites and a smattering of new recordings featuring the likes of Lana del Rey (a winsome ‘You Must Love Me’) and Gregory Porter (a spirited ‘Light At the End of the Tunnel’).
And the result is quite the compilation. From original interpretations of classics like ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ by Julie Covington, Marti Webb’s ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’ and Michael Crawford’s ‘The Music of the Night’ to the fresher energy of Elena Roger and Philip Quast’s sensuous ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’ and Nicole Scherzinger’s ‘Memory’, this is an impressive trawl through the way in which this composer has dominated the world of musical theatre. (And in some way continues to do so, 2017 saw him have a record-equalling four shows running concurrently on Broadway).
With the lord himself curating, there’s also a pleasing recognition of some of lesser-sung moments in his canon. In an otherwise poorly received Stephen Ward, Joanna Riding’s ‘I’m Hopeless When It Comes To You’ was a blistering standout moment. And current Olivier nominee Josie Walker’s rendition of The Beautiful Game’s ‘If This Is What We’re Fighting For’ is another undersung highlight. A previously unreleased live version of ‘Learn To Be Lonely’ (from the film version of The Phantom of the Opera) offers the Beyoncé moment and Barbra Streisand’s ‘With One Look’ has a roaring intensity I’ve long found hard to resist.
Some of the choices do sit a little oddly, particularly in the Latin fiesta of Evita’s ‘Buenos Aires’ being neutered by the cast of Glee and Madonna getting two bites of the cherry from the same show (including her shameless grab for ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’). And if Lloyd Webber’s creative partnership with muse Sarah Brightman has been hugely significant, it does feel slightly over-represented here as she appears no less than 8 times. Though as her thrilling soprano soars through the gorgeous heights of the likes of ‘All I Ask Of You’ and ‘Pie Jesu’, it’s hard to deny the meld of talent here. And that stands for the collection as a whole.