Review Summary: The Chairman plays it straight; executes with ease.
1961's 'Ring-A-Ding Ding!' plays like a record self-assured. Sinatra sounds optimistic and relaxed, the arrangements are bouncy (thanks to Johnny Mandel), the words are playful - the sound is full. This being said, it is possible that the confidence displayed here is, in part, a well-executed front. This was the first release on Sinatra's new label, Reprise, and comes on the heels of a very successful run and an attempted sabotage by former label Capitol.
However, the music here trumps whatever backdrop Sinatra created it against. The vocal twists and turns are effortless and the arrangements pick up the slack. 'A Foggy Day', for example, showcases a lazy crooner at the very beginning, and a dynamic urgency by the last refrain. 'The Coffee Song' is as perky (pun very much intended) as Sinatra gets, while 'In the Still of the Night' allows for a more relaxed approach. Both are pulled off, and captured perfectly. The title track is a perfect introduction, and establishes an energy that never dissipates. Sinatra's ability to navigate arrangements in this way is key to the success of this album.
This is, perhaps, demonstrated best in one of the two outtakes on the '50th Anniversary' Reissue. The ten minute version of 'Have You Met Miss Jones', ultimately discarded for release, provides just a glimpse of a master at work. He controls proceedings but is not overbearing and seems aware of his own influence; a perfect counterpart to an album that feels so confident.
If there is anything to complain about, it is familiarity. It takes some effort to listen to this music with fresh ears. Sinatra walks a path well-worn, even in 1961, and more so in 2011. The important thing is, though, that he does it so well. It's up to the listener to find a new angle from which to listen. If that is achieved, as Sinatra suggests in 'Miss Jones', it might "sound like a different album".