After the write-up of “Release Me” I got several comments and emails from Engelbert fans. They ran along familiar lines: Engelbert is a superb performer, he has a remarkable voice, his fame and renown will far outlast your puny blog.
The last of these I concede without a quibble (though perhaps with an eye-roll or two). As for the others: yes, Engelbert Humperdinck has a magnificent, rich, sumptuous voice. But “The Last Waltz” is evidence that he’s not any kind of a performer.
Each verse of “The Last Waltz” carries different weight: unexpected triumph in the first – unsought loss in the second. It’s a song of bittersweet regret and hard-gained experience, that Humperdinck takes in a well-greased monotone, swooping and booming and investing nothing of himself at all. There’s no inflected difference between the verses, no emotional hooks, the performance is just an unctious slick on a torpid pool.
At the end he bellows “It’s over!” (you might reach for Roy Orbison here, but let’s spare Engelbert the embarassment). But it isn’t over, there’s a chorus of “la la la”s to take us to the finish. Tricky things, “la la la”s – nothing specific to convey, which can make them the hardest part of a performance to get right, the moment where you know for sure whether the singer’s pulled it off and got inside the mood of a song. The “la”s in “The Last Waltz” are – sadly, expectedly – a cocoon of nothing.
But what a magnificent voice!