Here's a riddle for you: If a talented artist succeeds in an effort that isn't worth the time or talent expended to get there, is that a success or a failure? I ask because I just finished listening to jazz guitarist Andy Scott's latest disc, Don't Tempt Fate, and it strikes me as a case in point. Usually I listen to an album at least twice before I begin writing, but my cheese tolerance starting redlining halfway through this album because Scott delivers every song on the disc--and worse, his collaborators play along in this same vein--as if he were a Vegas lounge act. Specifically, he sings like he's listening to bossa nova on his internal iPod, and, man, is that annoying.
I thought it was just me, but then I made the error of reading the liner notes and the press kit that came with the CD, and oh gentle readers, imagine the horror when I realized that was the sound he was going for. It wasn't just a matter of a pretty good guitarist not realizing that he's a vessel for Dean Martin's giddy Rat Pack spirit. Nope, that was his intended goal. Which brings me to my quandary: Is this album a success? Personally, I thought it was a great waste of Scott's obvious talent, but I'm not in the intended audience. Plus, he did successfully evoke the Rat Pack-era swing sound he was reportedly aiming to hit. Thus, as a focused product, this album made the grade.
In some ways, I'm reminded of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, an album generally considered to be just contract fulfillment and almost universally recognized as unlistenable. The same question arose then: Is that album a success because it fulfilled Reed's expectations, or is it a failure because nobody else can stomach it? I'm not lumping Lou Reed and Andy Scott in the same category, mind you; I'm just trying to draw a parallel. In the long run, Don't Tempt Fate might be an artistic success, but I damn sure can't recommend it.