Frank Sinatra’s “Point Of No Return” Reviewed
In May of 1962 Frank Sinatra was 46 years old, which means that Point Of No Returns’ leitmotif, the aging process and fond farewells on album # 21, were not just because Point Of No Return was his contractual obligation to Capitol final recording (till 1994 -but we aren’t at Duets yet), or the return and farewell of Sinatra often arranger and conductor, Axel Stordahl, or even that his voice sounds aged in the way it would by the mid-1980s, but because the sound behind Sinatra is time (and the Beatles) catching up with him though he doesn’t quite know it yet. From “When The World Was Young” to “I’ll Remember You,” the romantic liaisons, the unrequited romances, the ring-a-ding-ding martini and broads in Vegas, are in the back mirror as Sinatra grows older in the 1960s.
Certainly, despite splendid successes, the 1960s were not the 1950s, in retrospect Sinatra’s decade was the 1950s, a prolific outpouring of pop and jazz that easily defined a decade of a certain, American can doism (only slightly shook by Korea). With all the obvious caveats (aka if you weren’t black, Latin American, transgendered, poor, or female), the 1950s were the great American decade: it is where the States let loose on all the promises and became the true promised land. The USSR lost the cold war in the 1950s, everybody wanted to live in Disneyland, everybody wanted to be Frank Sinatra.
In 1962 Sinatra was already ensconced at his own Reprise Records, and, in a move that upset Alex Stordahl, would only give Alex two days (September 11th to September 12th, 1961) to record Point Of No Return. The album may be slight, it might not stretch Sinatra, and it was also a missed opportunity: sure, Frank was pissed at Capitol for owning the masters, but the Capitol years stand as an artistic high for Sinatra, and also for American pop, Sinatra owed it to himself to give himself the time to perfect the songs, and he didn’t, but it is a great album despite itself: it is a true vision of a man in his forties. The album doesn’t sound rushed, but it doesn’t sound pushed at all: Frank doesn’t strain himself, if it isn’t perfunctory, it isn’t buoyant either. Compare the swinging “I’ll Be Seeing You” from I Remember Tommy in 1961 to this version one year later. In 1961, Frank re-interprets the song as a brassy swing and hit, in 1962 he seems to remember the 1938 song’s WW2 MIA, it is quiet, plaintive, and earnest, but done in a minor key and not as memorable.
If Frank’s heart isn’t in this finishing end to his Capitol years, arranged and conducted by the same man who had arranged his first studio recording with the label in 1953 (Riddle would do the album, of course), he must have been aware of it, how the entire album is a slow, sad, melancholia unlike the heartache of his Wee Small years, miles apart: here he just looks over his shoulder and shakes his head at the inevitability of time: it is as though the dream of eternal joy, of always going through his life at the top, is shuddered by the effects of it all. Sinatra on “When The World Was Young” is so retrospective he is introspective, life isn’t in the rearview mirror yet but he died at the age of 82 so he was passed the midway point. “September Song,” an ultimate age story, is given a simple and straightforward take even as it seems to count the days. “There Will Never Be Another You” is sweet, deep slow, broken up. “As Time Goes By” is time going by. “These Foolish Things” was unnecessary as the joy of remembrance becomes slow and sorry,. Point Of No Return has a bad rep but it is a great achievement despite itself.
Essentially, Point Of No Return is an inverted mid-life crises, instead of searching out his youth Frank, intentionally or otherwise, is saying goodbye to that part of his life. Like the 1950s, the growing up portion of life was over. In a year, Sinatra’s friend, John F. Kennedy would be assassinated at the age of… 46. In a sense, Point Of No Return is an album for a tragedy that hasn’t happened yet.