I’m not exactly a huge fan of the High School Musical movies (an odd start to a blog about Hugh Laurie’s new album, but stick with me, there is a point), but one song from the first film that I do always enjoy is called Stick To The Status Quo. It’s about how people from one walk of life should never stray from it by trying other things, an attempt to discourage Zac Efron from destroying high school life by both playing both basketball and singing in a musical. Whenever someone from one form of entertainment tries to branch out into another, we all tend to join in the chorus of that song, that’s why I mentioned it.
Hugh Laurie’s career has been a curious one, going from the very English Blackadder and Jeeves And Wooster to the very American House, with a few film appearances along the way. While his role as ‘generic grumpy doctor’ has made him a household name in the States in a very unlikely way, his musical diversion still comes as a bit of a surprise. He’s been building up to it over the last couple of years with appearances on a Meat Loaf album (seriously) and his participation in a charity group called Band From TV (with other TV actors), but the leap from playing idiotic fop Prince George to recording a southern blues album with the likes of Dr John and Irma Thomas is a huge one.
That’s why there’s a bit of backbiting going on about it. On the appropriately-titled Let Them Talk, Laurie sings with a very Americanised accent and his lack of ‘authenticity’ has been sniped at. How can a posh, white Englishman sing these songs? It’s simple, because he loves them and because he can. He’s an accomplished pianist and a decent enough singer to pull it off, so why shouldn’t he? I would do it if I could, but I can’t play the piano or sing, and I’m not famous enough for anyone to let me record an album.
There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here, of course. Laurie’s album is a perfectly decent collection of New Orleans-flavoured blues songs, well produced by the wonderful Joe Henry and performed with feeling by Laurie, with help from the aforementioned ‘authentic’ types Dr John and Irma Thomas, as well as (for reasons that make less sense and push this a little too close to a Jools Holland album) Tom Jones. It all sounds good, and that’s all you ever really need from music, isn’t it?
But still, when a talented entertainer tries their hand at something that they are passionate about, the world is not often quick to give them a chance. Another example is Scarlett Johansson’s album of Tom Waits covers, which limped out a few years ago and was mostly ignored. Again, it wasn’t earthshakingly good, and her voice was functional at best, but it was worth a listen and I still go back to it sometimes. Then of course there’s Zooey Deschanel, who has released two really good albums as She & Him, while Juliette Lewis has mostly transformed herself from actress to rock chick.
Obviously it doesn’t always work, and you end up with the likes of Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe and Steven Seagal releasing dreadful albums, but you’ve got to give people the benefit of the doubt sometimes, and Let Them Talk might not be the start of a wonderful music career for Hugh Laurie, but it’s an entertaining diversion for him and for us.