Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours (1955)

Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours (1955)

Break-ups can be tough. But the sorrowful trade-off can be clarity. An emotional leveller can put things into perspective and enable one to see and feel things more clearly. It won’t stop the pain, but it may give one some hope. When Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner split up, Frank decided to release this, an album that sustained a single inconsolable mood for the entire two sides. So it seems that 25 years before Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was pouring his own personal pain into concept albums like The Wall (1979) and The Final Cut (1983), Frank Sinatra was translating heartache into aural art that transcended the misery and became mournfully beautiful. This is a great late night album. And if you’re alone, drowning your sorrows with a bottle of whiskey, here’s your soundtrack. Sinatra had recently signed to Capitol Records in an attempt to revive his career, and they teamed him up with band-leader Nelson Riddle, which would be a collaboration spawning some legendary albums. This was their second. But it was the first to be treated in such a conceptual way. It contained popular standards like “Mood Indigo”, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)”, but here they were crying on each other’s shoulders, rendered under a soft rain of forlorn tears. A few years later they (Frank and Nelson) would plumb the sad depths again with Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely (1958) (with possibly even better results) that would produce the stellar “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”. Maybe this album didn’t yield any big ‘Frank Hits’ as such, but it’s still an epic in terms of witnessing a master sing with a staggering heartfelt precision. His timing, his phrasing, his delivery is perfect. But it’s more than that. He inhabits these songs completely. His technique is air-tight, but it’s the authentic characterisation, the immense feeling he achieves that is the key to the broken human magic of this album.