Susan Boyle: I Dreamed a Dream | CD review

The Subo circus leads from Britain's Got Talent, to YouTube phenomenon, via a pitstop at the Priory… to a surprisingly subtle debut album

When is a record not a record? When it is a souvenir of a phenomenon. Weeks ahead of release, Susan Boyle's debut album has topped Amazon's pre-sale charts. Boyle is the church mouse who roared on Britain's Got Talent last spring, turning the tables on judges and audience members disdainful that a woman over 25 blithe to the rigours of Botox should open her mouth in public. A viral pandemic on YouTube made the Scottish fortysomething an international star. This is her dream come true, we are told; never mind that the whirlwind taking her from West Lothian to happy ever after has already landed this psychologically delicate woman in the Priory.

This, then, is no mere bunch of songs; it is a commemorative mug of a major national event, rendered as a silver gewgaw that plays music. It would be instructive to see a Venn diagram showing the overlap between purchasers of I Dreamed a Dream and those buying Lady Gaga's album, The Fame Monster. Or, indeed, the overlap between SuBo and any other record at all. Just for a moment, let's pretend this is a CD. Boyle's signature tune, "I Dreamed a Dream", is largely unaltered from her rendition on Britain's Got Talent, as is "Cry Me a River". That great standard of the Christian tradition, "Amazing Grace", ably anchors the mid-section.

Britain's favourite hymn, "How Great Thou Art", comes straight out of Songs of Praise, and the prize ring of a Christmas No 1 is clinched by "Silent Night". In a world where Leona Lewis does Snow Patrol, curveball covers are no surprise, but Boyle's spartan version of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" is no travesty. Gospel-tinged and shivery, "Up to the Mountain" is a bigger shock. Patty Griffin's original alludes to Martin Luther King. You suspect Boyle got it from Simon Cowell, who heard Kelly Clarkson do it on American Idol. The very best thing about I Dreamed a Dream is that Boyle is mercifully restrained throughout. A little vibrato is as close as she comes to over-emoting.

A more fitting end to Britain's Got Talent would have seen Boyle kebabbing the judges and burning down the whole cruel, exploitative edifice with her telekinetic powers, like Stephen King's Carrie. As it is, you can only hope that her success will make Susan Boyle happy and that the fame monster doesn't eat her up.


Kitty Empire

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