Crusty, one-time teen idol Paul Anka doesn't deserve much credit for Rock Swings, a semi-successful marriage of modern pop-rock and swing. The big-band arrangements by Patrick Williams, Randy Kerber and John Clayton are such skillful re-creations of classic swing that they hardly require Anka's participation. The highlight is "Smells Like Teen Spirit," on which Anka croons, "Here we are now, entertain us," while a crack group of session players illuminates the tacit dynamics of Kurt Cobain's hit single. Highbrow intent and execution do nothing to hide the song's seditious power.
For the rest of the rock-as-big-band album, the '90s material holds up best, as alternative hits like "Wonderwall" and "Black Hole Sun" merge well with strings and horns. The '80s choices, however, are distressing. "Jump," "Eye of the Tiger" and Lionel Richie's "Hello" have limited, cheesy appeal, standing out more for their wink-worthy kitsch than for anything interesting in the big-band translation. Anka would be better served recording an all-Nirvana album--I, for one, yearn for the jump blues of "Rape Me" and the dulcet, jazzy tones of "Territorial Pissings."
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