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Release Him

Engelbert Humperdinck
King of Romance: Fans stay true to Engelbert Humperdinck.

Photo by David Mayenfisch

Crooner Engelbert Humperdinck
revamps his cool quotient

By Todd S. Inoue

ONE OF THE GRANDEST moments I've ever experienced at a concert was watching Tony Bennett upstage the Lemonheads' Evan Dando at a Live 105 Green Christmas concert two years ago. Bennett's jaunty set of jazz standards, played with impeccable class and showmanship, stirred the crowd of alterna-teens into a frenzy. The meek poster boy Dando followed Bennett with 10 minutes of mope rock and disappeared quietly behind the curtain.

Serves the punk right. During these turbulent times of "anti-rock star" posturing, folks are returning to the past to bask in a more civilized era when being a celebrity was a blessing, not a curse. A desire for something more real and gratifying, a lot of this is media-fueled, but if and when the novelty wears off, we're left with some great albums filled with music that we can give to our parents.

The recycling machine has revived the careers of Bennett, Harry Belafonte (courtesy of Beetlejuice), Mel Tormé (Mountain Dew), Barry White (Budweiser), and Tom Jones (Art of Noise, EMF). Now it's Engelbert Humperdinck's turn.

Good, moral-thinking people should not feel threatened by the warm vibrato or the thin mustache he sometimes sports. As cheesy as it sounds, Humperdinck's re-entry into the consciousness of America's youth is wholesome compared to the current crop corrupting our children like Urkel or the cast of Melrose Place. At least with Humperdinck, the kids will get a lesson in romance and performance, etiquette and fashion (imagine youths tossing out those ridiculously baggy pants for wide-lapeled suits).

Humperdinck's enduring image as an MOR crooner and underwear outfielder was helped along by manager Gordon Mills, who did similar work with Tom Jones. Under Mills' guidance, the early Arnold Dorsey switched his name to that of the frequently misspelled, yet infinitely hard-to-forget composer of Hansel and Gretel.

With the name and baubles in place, Humperdinck quickly got the juices flowing. His big hit in the '60s, "Release Me (and Let Me Love Again)," was followed by an unsteady string of Top 40 hits in the '70s: "There Goes My Everything," "The Last Waltz," "Am I That Easy to Forget?," and the coffee-and-cigarettes classic "After the Lovin'." Not one to rest on laurels, he recorded albums in Spanish, German, and Italian and as recently as 1992 cut an album of hits with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. With 64 gold and 23 platinum albums on his walls, this "king of romance" reigns over the largest fan club in the world, boasting some 8 million members. He must be doing something right.

A fragrance, named after the hit single "Release Me," did bang-up business on the Home Shopping Channel. But before Humperdinck could be sentenced to a stint on the Psychic Friends Network, he refinanced his net cool by collaborating with the most respected pair of tastemakers since Siskel and Ebert: Beavis and Butt-head. The single "Fly Lesbian Seagull" can be heard over the closing credits of the hit movie Beavis and Butt-head Do America and next to the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the accompanying soundtrack.

The velvet-throated singer obsessed with style and panache is finally getting his turn in the cheese-colored glow of '90s nostalgia. Like the cake left out in the rain in "MacArthur Park"--it took so long to bake it, but baby, he can really cook.

Engelbert Humperdinck holds forth on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m., at the Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Tickets, $27.50­$39.50, are reserved. 546-3600.

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From the January 16-22, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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