Nelson Riddle
Changing Colors





Yet again, I review an album that is somewhat inept and exceeds the Exotica threshold value, if such a threshold even exists (hint: it does not). Nelson Riddle's Changing Colors is one of his last albums before his short, temporary retirement in the 70's, and doesn't feature exotic instruments, but is in fact the purest incarnation of a certain genre called Easy Listening, foreshadowing lush, string-heavy orchestrations and occasional appearances of Latin-style pianos. Consequently, Riddle doesn't target the waning Exotica audience of the 70's, but refines his formula of harmonious good-mood songs once again on this 10-track album which is fortunately easily available on both CD and in digital download format, proving that fans of such music still exist en masse these days.


My Life is a carefree, swinging song with brass sections, mellow strings, a crazy bachelor pad organ … and they all play a damn-fine melody which will surely bring you in a good mood or two. The same goes for the most exotic song on there, São Paulo. It starts with dreamy, quavering strings, followed by a melody played on flute and piano, and a short, gorgeous two-note string burst. The rest of the song is Easy Listening by numbers, and since Riddle is capable of delivering exactly that, with an added touch of Brazilian Exotica and Latin pianos, the song is one of the best three on this release. Close To You is definitely worth a mention as well, for this cover of The Carpenters' greatest hit and one of the most beautiful, kitschy songs ever written, is surprisingly swinging because of the brassiest brass sections one can imagine, instilling a more celebratory, ostentatious feel to the yearning but picturesque original. It is even more valuable since there aren't so many renditions of this song as you might think.


Another favorite of mine is called Lamento, a good joke by Riddle, for the song is everything but a Lamento, starting off with cuddly flutes and a gorgeous string accompaniment; additionally, the melody is again played on flutes and pianos, but also on trumpets this time. The most terrific element consists of two sudden string intersections that are accompanied by a quiet piano. If someone asked me, hypothetically speaking, to present a 10-second snippet of this album, these string intersections would make it. Hence, Lamento is definitely an all-time favorite of mine. It is so unlike a lamento and so overloaded with hokum that I simply don't care and elect it as one of Riddle's best songs.


While When The World Was Young slows things down and adds acoustic guitars to an otherwise boring cover version, Naomi is the better continuation of Riddle's true Easy Listening spirit, which is one of the songs where the strings aren't just accompanying the pianos and flutes, but this time make up large parts of the melody themselves. The title giving Changing Colors is another slowed down song with a surprisingly improvising piano, whereas on all other songs a streamlined process takes place, with every player knowing his place and task. Once an artist overdoes it, the Easy Listening factor wears thin. But here, on the final song, the pianist is allowed to break loose, while everthing else stays the same, just in case someone is wondering.


And that is all there is to Nelson Riddle's Changing Colors: it's either a suitable album for your mating dance or a wellness trip for your ears. What you don't get is any challenge or mind-blowing instrumentations. In the end, one challenge still remains, though: just listen to the music and forget about it later … you probably can't, as the melodies and the energetically joyful strings will be enclosed in your head many a time. And thus, Riddle's music is outrageously efficient. It disguises as yet another Easy Listening album – yawn! –, but all of a sudden lays open outstanding qualities in terms of long-lasting melodies that are remembered to this day, which is the achievement of the various, always gorgeous, always convivial string sections. Today's bad aftertaste caused by the genre isn't Riddle's fault, but was in fact caused by several half-hearted attempts of other short-lived enterprises and record labels that would throw anything on the market that could evoke the slightest Easy Listening vibe, regardless of the overall quality or the artists' capabilities. If you know about this, then the music of Nelson Riddle is recommended by me. With a wink.


Further reading:

Yet again I link to an entry of Their Nelson Riddle article focuses on his music-related work and a discography, delivering once more well-founded information beyond the Wikipedia article.


Exotica Review 015: Nelson Riddle – Changing Colors (1971). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2011 at