Album Review: Jamie Cullum, “Pointless Nostalgic” (2002)

As you may have noticed, one of my favorite singers is Jamie Cullum. The British jazz star appeals to me on several levels; his unique blend of jazz music and pop, his extraordinary vocal talent, and his quirky live performances are just a few of the reasons why I’ve been a fan of his for the last two or three years. I recently had the opportunity to see Cullum live in concert (front row seats, no less. It was an amazing show, and I won’t stop bragging about it until everyone goes and sees him live…you’ll be utterly amazed!), and after the show, I realized that I had to get my hand on every piece of music that Cullum has ever recorded.

Besides joining his official message board and bugging everyone on the forum to send me downloads of all of Cullum’s live performances, I made a search on Amazon and purchased Cullum’s first album (he also recorded an independent release, Heard It All Before in 1999, which is now so rare that copies of it have sold on eBay for over #600!), Pointless Nostalgic. Filled with jazz standards and a few original songs, Pointless Nostalgic is a great introduction to Cullum’s talent and unique sound.

The album begins with You And The Night And The Music, an upbeat number with plenty of bass, drums, (courtesy of Cullum’s bassist, Geoff Gascoyne (who also produced the album alongside Cullum) and drummer, Sebastiaan de Krom, both of whom still tour with him today) and, of course Cullum on the piano. An instrumental break provides a beautiful trumpet solo, and we get to hear Cullum scat a bit (which is pulled off perfectly) before returning back to the next verse with a lively piano notes.

Next up is Frank Sinatra’s classic, I Can’t Get Started With You. Usually my complaint about singers doing an album of standards is that they rarely do anything to set their version apart from the original, but this isn’t the case with Cullum. The song begins quietly, with nothing but his vocals, and he slowly begins playing the piano until the rest of the song sets in. Though the song is simply composed (Cullum’s voice, piano, sax, and bass make up the song), the track is a beautiful one; Cullum sings it flawlessly and the song sets off an incredibly romantic mood.

The tempo picks right back up with Devil May Care, a fun swing song. This song is done with a full orchestra, and has much of a big band feel to it. Cullum puts appropriate life into the carefree lyrics (“Live love today, and come tomorrow what may/Don’t even stop for a sigh, it doesn’t help if you cry/That’s how I’ll live and I’ll die /Devil may care”). You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You follows, and is an equally upbeat and fun song with plenty of beautiful instrumental breaks and more scatting by Cullum.

The first of the two original songs appears with the title track, Pointless Nostalgic, which is somewhat similar to Cullum’s recent hit, Photograph. Cullum collaborated with his brother, Ben Cullum, and the result is a mid-tempo track and sentimental lyrics about reflecting on life (“Reminiscing my cares away/Wishing I could go back and change the points that were low/Till I’ve realized what life’s meant to be”).

Another one of my favorites follows, with In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. The great thing about this album is that in addition to Cullum’s talent, several other great musicians are highlighted as well. For the first minute of the song, a gorgeous sax solo is played (Ben Castle), and sets the mood for a wonderfully beautiful song. Cullum’s voice is smooth and inviting and the piano and the sax sound absolutely amazing together. While the track runs over six minutes long, each second is perfect, and I dare you to listen without falling in love with the song.

Well You Needn’t is another big band track, and Cullum works his way through the fast paced (and clever lyrics-“You’re taking off weight well you needn’t/You’re looking just great well you needn’t/You’re settin’ the bait well you needn’t/It’s over now, it’s over now”) like a true pro. His piano solo is also a highlight during the song. A tune from Porgy and Bess follows with It Ain’t Necessarily So, another one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song has a definite blues feeling to it, and once again, Cullum sounds wonderful as he sings in his lower register (he almost sounds like a bass during the verses!). The lyrics are once again great (“To get into heaven, don’t snap for a seven/Live clean forget your faults/I take gospel whenever it’s possbel (Rhymes with gospel)/But with a grain of salt”), thanks to music veterans George and Ira Gershwin, but Cullum delivers them flawlessly.

High and Dry, a Radiohead cover, is present once again (it was also included on Twentysomething) and seems to be identical to the version that was later released. Too Close For Comfort and Looking Good are both upbeat jazz tracks, with plenty of horns and more scatting. Both tracks are nice, and though aren’t my favorites, are still nice. Cullum sounds like he’s having the time of his life while singing both of them.

One of the best tracks on the album is A Time For Love. Again, the tenor sax (Dave O’Higgins) is highlighted and provides a beauty to the song that’s irreplaceable. Cullum breathes life into the lyrics (“I know a time for spring/A time for fall/But best of all/A time for love”) and sings the song with such emotion and passion that it really makes me wish I was in love.

The album ends with the other original track, I Want To Be A Popstar, which is another one of my favorites. The song was written solely by Cullum, and is a good example of some of his self-penned work on Twentysomething and Catching Tales. Cullum has a way of writing great lyrics, and during this song he compares himself with modern pop stars in such a tongue-in-cheek way that you’ll be smirking through the majority of the song (“Why is it all these fakers/Seem to make the morning papers?/They’re selling records by the million, seems so easy in my opinion/Look at the Jazz Star, he really needs some guts/Playing from seven to midnight, surviving on peanuts/…An ugly guy will write my songs/Surely there is nothing wrong/Retiring when I’m 22/With a house a car and nothing to do”). The song ends on a subtle note with Cullum realizing that perhaps being a pop star isn’t worth “selling out”. Of course, he wrote this song before he was a successful musician, but I can honestly say that he’s made it without selling out one bit.

Pointless Nostalgic is a truly wonderful album. Cullum and his band do a perfect job of bringing their talent to the older standards and making them something worth listening to for several more years to come.

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. You And The Night And The Music
2. I Can’t Get Started
3. Devil May Care
4. You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You
5. Pointless Nostalgic
6. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning
7. Well You Needn’t
8. It Ain’t Necessarily So
9. High And Dry
10. Too Close For Comfort
11. A Time For Love
12. Lookin’ Good
13. I Want To Be A Popstar

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