2007   MAY 18   #138

This Is Joe Cutajar

01. Love Goes On (3:23)
02. Got To Have You By My Side (2:58)
03. Sing With Me a Happy Song (3:04)
04. Adios Amore Mio (3:50)
05. I Want To Sing (2:46)
06. Dejjem Ghall Xulxin (3:39)
07. Minghajr Imhabba (2:58)
08. Barbeque (4:13)
09. Dak Kien Zmien (3:46)
10. Xewqat Sbieh (3:56)

This Maltese easy listening effort is one of those well meaning, but deliciously inept albums where the singer is let down by the quality of the production. Joe Cutajar was a big name in Malta and first found fame as one half of Helen and Joe who warbled the Maltese entry L-imhabba (The Love) for the 1972 Eurovision song Contest. It came bottom. This was the last Malta entry to be sung in Maltese, all subsequent entries were in English. But Joe compromised and sings in both Maltese and English on this 10-track album, which, being from 1977, is awash with Moog synths, wah-wah guitar and a particularly unpleasant Salina string machine.

The latter is so over-used it suggests that they had hired it for the day and were getting their money's worth in the limited studio time. The Moog was also clearly on loan and in most cases is as loud, if not louder, than poor Joe's vocals. I love the way it keeps going off on little trips of its own which have nothing to do with the tune the rest of the band are playing. On Got To Have You By My Side it sounds like a demented cat mewing away in the background, while by the time it reaches Sing With Me A Happy Song it has turned into a particularly unhappy car alarm.

Joe's not a bad crooner, a bit like a cross between Britain's Tony Christie and Neil Diamond, but as English isn't his first language some of his pronunciations are a bit odd. For example "It's the need deep inside me" becomes "It's the knee-deep inside me" on Got To Have You By My Side. While on the peace anthem Sing With Me A Happy Song he enthuses "All those birds cannot be wrong, try your door and leave us a lock". Also check out the way he sings the word "people" on the strangely demonic I Want To Sing where we also learn "How they look but they just stares, They minds are lost elsewhere,What happened to the swirl?"!

There are lots of moments to enjoy here. Love Goes On features so many mad Mini Moog counter melodies it's like we've wandered into a fairground, with the whining synth really setting your teeth on edge. And don't overlook the Maltese-language epic 'Barbeque' on side two where it's not only the food that was on fire. A splendid wah-wah guitar-driven rhythm, a funky flute, electric piano and an extended, screaming, guitar solo all compete with Joe's reverb-drowned vocals to create a unique sound. There's something especially naff about a MOR crooner doing a disco number but when it's sung in Maltese with such a dodgy backing it's in a league of its own!

But save room for the ballad Xewqat Sbieh (Best Wishes) that has the lot! The ubiquitous string machine turned up to 11, a discordant flute, a badly dubbed narrator and a superbly out-of-tune children's chorus. Watch out for the point when the flautist and the kiddie chorus both hit splendidly bum notes.

The cover shot says it all. Joe squats nervously floating on a sickly orange background, sporting a hideous headache-inducing striped sweater and a forced grin as though he knew he was on to a loser. But his loss is our gain...

NB: the sleeve credits reveal that Joe also played drums on the album. If he performed these songs as a live act (and the sleeve photo on the back suggests that he was in-house entertainer at the Malta Hilton), then the dule role of singer and drummer in a cabaret setting must have been hard to carry off, but wonderful to watch.

- Contributed by: David Noades

Images: Front, Label

Media: Album
Label: Sunray
Catalog: SR 7001
Credits: Lyrics by Alfred Sant, Music by Raymond Agius. Recorded at Smash Studios, Malta. Musicians: Tony Barbara (Drums), David Lucas (Sax, Flute), Joe Cutajar (Drums), Ray Agius (Piano), Godwin Cachia (Moog), Wilfred Buttigieg, Freddie Scicluna (guitars).
Date: 1977