PEGGY LEE Black Coffee With Peggy Lee (Speakers Corner)
Cited by some as the first album to be conceived as a thematic whole, rather than just a slung-together collection of songs, “Black Coffee With Peggy Lee” was first released as an eight track 10” record in 1953, then three years later as a 12” expanded with four freshly-recorded songs. Perhaps it to the credit of the arrangers and musicians on the latter that the joins really don’t show. Certainly, it shouldn’t be too hard to trace Frank Sinatra’s misery series back to here; the song selection here makes it sound almost like a concept album about a spurned lover, damaged and desperate.
I suppose I was expecting creamy-smooth mellifluousness from this, my first Peggy Lee album, but surprisingly it has something of an acid sting in its tail. For easy listening, there’s something decidedly uneasy about it. I think it’s down to the confluence of material – “Black Coffee”, for example, hardly being the cheeriest way to open an album – and the recording, both of which veer slightly towards harsh and unfriendly. Listening to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, Peggy sounds as if she’s about to be served with an ASBO; it’s less a song, more a stalker’s charter. “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” offers a brief, smiling, chiming respite from the pervading sense of obsession, but it bubbles up again during “Love Me Or Leave Me”, despite the jazzy potency of its small group setting. Most bizarrely of all, “You’re My Thrill”’s narcotic wooziness suggests Spiritualized. The take home, perhaps, is that this sounds a far more modern album than its datestamp might suggest.
As with all Speakers Corner reissues I’ve encountered, this is a lovingly pressed and packaged record, but isn’t quite up to their usual standards of sonic delight, undercut by a degree of harshness that I suspect is an inherent characteristic of the source tape.