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All the Fun of the Fair

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Album Review

A chiming Chris Spedding guitar lament opens David Essex's third album, paving the way for what remains the most adventurous yet of the singer's '70s output. Loosely thematic, if not all-out conceptual, All the Fun of the Fair opens and closes with a dive into the underworld of fairground culture that so fascinated the youthful Essex, and was so exquisitely recreated for That'll Be the Day. "All the Fun of the Fair" itself is a quirky rocker peopled with the Jack the Lad roustabouts that man the machines, and laden with such spot-on sound effects that the smell of cotton candy permeates the entire album; "Funfair (Reprise)" reiterates the riff, the chorus, and the sound effects, and closes the album with the finality of the ghost train crashing back into daylight. And, in between, All the Fun of the Fair is as excitable as an evening spent on all your favorite rides. In terms of sonics, Essex and producer Jeff Wayne were now adeptly working two distinct themes — the jaunty (even cheeky) ballads epitomized by the potently, if almost painfully, sentimental "If I Could," and the slow-burning sultriness that looked back to "Rock On," and flavors "Circles," "Watch Out (Carolina)," and "Rolling Stone." Between these two extremes, however, Essex's versatility is broad enough that, not only does he hold his own against the backing vocal talents of the Real Thing, he can also get away with revisiting his own recent past, as the hard rocker "Won't Get Burned Again" toys with the main theme of "Gonna Make You a Star," and "Coconut Ice" has another stab at the faintly Caribbean rhythm that flavored Rock On's "Ocean Girl." Elsewhere, "Here It Comes Again" is a head-banging stomp that suggests, if the teeny-bop idol biz ever lost its appeal, Essex had a ready-made future writing metal anthems. The most eternal song, however, is "Hold Me Close," the second of the three U.K. hit singles spun off the first side of the album. Effortlessly singalong, eminently personable, it was performed in Essex's best cockney yowl — and it was almost 30 years before he admitted that this most unaffectedly heartwarming of performances was banged out on the very last day of the sessions, with the record label bigwigs waiting in reception, anxious to hear the finished LP. "Two vocal takes, a quick half an hour mix, and bosh! It turned out to be one of my biggest records."


Born: 23 July 1947 in Plaistow, London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The mention of the name David Essex -- at least to Americans -- usually invokes a wave of '70s nostalgia, not just of his own monster hit "Rock On" and the movie That'll Be the Day, but also of such British pop/rock exports of the period such as Godspell, Rock Follies, color episodes of Doctor Who, and Rula Lenska. For most of that decade, Essex was a pop culture institution in England, and he produced the music and entertainment in enough different media to fulfill the role admirably. Born David...
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All the Fun of the Fair, David Essex
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