For her 20th studio album, Katie Noonan takes listeners back to where it all began – the iconic pop songs of the 1980s that first ignited her passion for music.
From pooling pocket money with her brother to buy the first Crowded House album, to having her mind blown by the incredible video clips of a-ha and 1927, to dancing around in stonewash denim singingWhitney Houston, Billy Joel and Cyndi Lauper songs into a hairbrush mike, these are the singers and the songs that inspired her to pursue a career in music – a career that has seen her named one of the greatest Australian singers of all time by the Herald Sun, with five ARIA Awards from 25 nominations across a number of diverse genres.
On this album Katie is joined by four of the finest jazz musicians in Australia – Zac Hurren (saxophones), Sam Keevers (piano), Phil Stack (double bass) and Evan Mannell (drums) – all fellow babies of the 1970s who grew up with this music as their earliest influences.
They put new jazz spins on these classic tunes that reveal just how good the songwriting was, despite the occasional daggy synth effect or over-the-top production. Terence Trent D'Arby’s smash hit ‘Sign Your Name’ is reimagined as a sultry late-night groove, while Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ is transformed into a piano ballad that exposes the heartache and longing at the core of what has long been a party-starter.
‘Electric Blue’ by Icehouse is given an irresistible cha cha makeover, while ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ and ‘True Colors’ are stripped right back to their bare bones, with Katie’s extraordinary voice taking centre-stage and delivering performances of these songs as raw and moving as you have ever heard them.
This is a joyous and heartfelt album, full of surprising and delightful takes on beloved classics. It’s an album for that small part of us that is forever leaping around our bedrooms, singing along to the radio, and gazing adoringly at the posters of pop stars on our walls – even if nowadays that’s a more accurate description of our children than ourselves!
The Sweetest Taboo
Following Kate Ceberano’s 2019 opus with jazz pianist Paul Grabowsky, another Australian music icon, Katie Noonan, avoids the overkill of pop music, opting instead for an exquisite jazz setting. While Noonan is not a jazz singer here — she doesn’t improvise, and rarely ventures past judicious variations of the melody — the strong presence of four superb jazz musicians supporting her pop artistry results in an unusually powerful album. The 12 tracks here are big hits from the mid-1980s, when a pre-pubescent Noonan was in her rumpus room in suburban Brisbane, having her “seven-year-old brain blown by the magic of pop music”. Bravely taking on popular hits long ensconced in the collective memory, Noonan does not produce mere covers; essentially her versions are redefinitions. I Wanna Dance With Somebody, for example, becomes a gentle ballad, revealing — perhaps for the first time — the beauty in the lyrics disguised in Whitney Houston’s frenetic version. The song, we discover, is about loneliness, not dancing. With risk-taking chutzpah Noonan sings Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors with the minimal accompaniment of Phil Stack’s double bass. Her moving rendition is enlivened by his outstanding bass solo. Similarly, Crowded House anthem Don’t Dream It’s Over begins with bass only under Noonan’s vocal, with Sam Keevers’s piano creeping in on the second stanza, joined later by drummer Evan Mannell, preparing the way for a lovely solo from Keevers. The Billy Joel masterpiece, Just The Way You Are, taken as a gentle bossa nova, is treated with similar minimalism, with Noonan accompanied by drums for the first 16 bars, with the entry of the other musicians delayed. As on other tracks, saxophonist Zac Hurren plays a beautiful obbligato line under Noonan’s vocal, before his extensive tenor improvisation, a timely reminder of the classic Phil Woods solo on the original version. Not least of the album’s delights is the sparing use of double-tracked backing vocals, which invariably provide sweetness in the music just at the right moment.
3 If I Could
4 Just The Way You Are
5 True Colors
6 Electric Blue
7 I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)
8 When Tomorrow Comes
10 Sign Your Name
11 Take On Me
12 Running To Stand Still
Katie Noonan voice
Zac Hurren tenor and soprano saxophones
Sam Keevers piano
Phil Stack double bass
Evan Mannell drums, cymbals and percussion