Review Summary: Setzer gets all serious and justifiably pleads for Grammy Awards with his most ambitious album yet
Before long, Brian Setzer will resort to beating rocks with sticks to make music. He'll have revived every genre of music that ever existed and will try and pull off recreating the primitive tunes composed by cavemen thousands of years ago. And the chances are that he'll succeed and make a hit album out of it. He did it with rockabilly, then swing and now he's created a nu-classical masterpiece.
A reworking of the creations of the greatest musical geniuses who ever lived can't have been an easy task (Setzer wrote every one of the scores for this album). Essentially the album is a collection of swing versions of classical songs, with Setzer's own brand of guitar playing imposed over the top, but the songs sound, although familiar, fresh and original.
Wolfgang's Big Night Out is so-called because Setzer believed that the composers were less serious as the musos of today would have you believe. They were about having fun as much as any of today’s rock stars (Pete Doherty excepted) and their music deserved to be stripped down and let loose.
Setzer turns lines of music written hundreds of years ago into poppy riffs. The albums blasts with the timeless intro from Beethoven's 5th Symphony here titled "Take The 5th", which with some distortion of the guitar could’ve become Beethoven heavy metal. Setzer bridges contemporary and classical so well you get the feeling that there could well be a version of “Whole Lotta Love” somewhere that was written by Ludwig himself.
He takes more musical liberties on the track "One More Night With You", based on Edvard Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King" (you know the tune, believe me). With hip vocals and drum solos the track sounds like anything you may have previously heard on ‘The Dirty Boogie’. It’s notably the only song on which Brian sings, such is the album’s focal point being on the music played.
For those that have heard the BSO's version of "The Nutcracker Suite" then the album’s title track is in a similar vein, although much shorter. Put simply, it’s crafted into many rock and roll-ified parts in an operatic fashion though all using the main ostinato. Perhaps more jazzy than Tchaikovsky’s Suite, “Wolfgang’s Big Night Out”, based on Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusic", runs through various tempos, rhythms and instruments exploring the music, building up in substance before an exciting climax.
Brian lets loose with the guitar on “Honey Man”, making the instrument as close sonically to that of a bumble-bee as you could get without using some highly sophisticated effects system. Short but sweet, “Honey Man” is the last non-instrumental song of the album, utilising Brian’s back-up singers for no other purpose than to sing “sugar, sugar honey man” and “faster, faster, go” repeatedly. The song grates toward the end and the lightening fast guitar solo that closes the track seems nothing more than Setzer showboating.
If you added some snarly vocals and upped the pace, "For Lisa" would work as a Gogol Bordello
acoustic track. More than just a hint of Eastern European influence here, the soft rhythm section accompanied by strings and acoustic guitar. Come the middle section of the album, convention takes over. “Swingin’ Willie”, “Here Comes The Broad” and “1812 Overdive” all pass for direct, uncomplicated swing translations of the classics they’re based on. There’s more than a passing reminder of pantomime soundtrack here, too, and it’d be unsurprising to hear that Setzer considered vaudeville of the turn of the 20th century whilst composing the album.
This is in no way a solo album and as with all of the Brian Setzer Orchestra releases you get the usual foot tapping rhythm, penetrating horns and jazzy, articulate guitar solos. However, it’s unlike anything ever recorded. Beethoven meets Glen Miller meets Danny Gatton.
If you've never given time to classical music and are perhaps a little put off by it then, as a very, very casual introduction to the genre, this album is for you. It's poppy enough to appeal to casual listeners and for the classical fans it works as an interesting interpretation of some of the greatest songs ever.