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Frank Sinatra’s “Trilogy: Past, Present & Future” Reviewed

My Frank Sinatra album reviews have been on hold for knocking on a year now, I wrote review #63, The Main Event (here) from 1974, and now I return after a detour into Steve Crawford’s Creem reviews. From 1973 to 1979 dropped two compilations, a more or less useless 40 song dip in the Reprise pool with a double album with Antonio Carlos Jobim compiled from their work together (here) to follow.

That takes us to the longest break Sinatra took from recording in his career (till old age caught up, I mean, saddling us with stuff like “Duets”). He returned with Trilogy: Past, Present & Future, a nearly two hour extravaganza that, while proving his voice wasn’t what it was -though, honestly, saw him at Radio City Music Hall fourteen years after this recording and when his voice wasn’t what it was his phrasing certainly was.

And the singing was pretty good over the three albums. Arranged by Billy May (The Past), Don Costa (The Present), and Gordon Jenkins (The Future) they are as good as you would assume, the past is excellent with Sinatra standard bearers like hard swinger “Let’s Face The Music And Dance”, “It Had To Be You” and others. Billy May had arranged Sinatra classic albums Come Fly with Me (1958), Come Dance with Me! (1959) and Come Swing with Me! (1961) and his work here is mature, American Standard for a mature Sinatra. Predictably, Don Costa’s The Present, while adding “Theme To New York York, New York” to the Sinatra catalog and an appealing swing through Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are”, the “Something” is fine. But “Tomorrow”?

The take is that “The Future” is a disaster, all song sung with a huge chorus of harmonizing men and women over strings and Gordon Jenkins wrote them and while he had worked with Sinatra for years (Jenkins is all over Some Nice Things I Missed (here)) every song is a head scratching what on earth. devoid of melody and with other singers treading on him, it tells us zero about the future (except they got it wrong), and yet… it is so impulsive and mistaken, it is so important as a statement of continuance that it makes his 70s (yes, 1980, got) an improvement and… “New York, New York” -he threw up a capital of the planet earth anthem.

What it did was remind us that Sinatra was an artist and like all artists he can misfire. “The Future” misfires while it fascinates, what is he talking about? “Friends I must see again, certain places where I must be again before the music ends…. I must go to Hoboken one more time” but why the morbidity? He had another 20 years to go. As for “World War None” -a terrible song poorly arranged and saved by Sinatra:

“With those un-neighborly feelings we deny we’ve got
Keep on trying for peace, until that peace is won
Then you’re practically ready for World War None
(A whispered word or touch is louder than a bugle)
(A silent prayer is so much stronger than a sword)
(And the bombs that can’t replace the stained glass window)
For which we should thank the good Lord, thank the good Lord)”

The horns are excellent but the song is not there at all. Is Sinatra’s singing and Gordon’s overblownness enough to save a suite without one memorable melody? Yeah, more or less. Look: it is album #56, it is the 1980s, and he had sailed through the 70s with Sinatra not what he was but directly what he is.

Grade: B+

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