If you’re wondering what Molly Ringwald has been up to since her heyday as the reigning redheaded queen of the ’80s, the short answer is a slew of TV appearances and a handful of minor film roles. But behind the scenes, Ringwald has been nurturing her musical inclinations, following in the footsteps of her jazz pianist father, Bob Ringwald, and working toward the release of her first album, Except Sometimes.
Except Sometimes is primarily a collection of excerpts from the Great American Songbook, to which Ringwald refers in her liner notes as one of America’s national treasures “along with jazz music, Hemingway, and the Marx Brothers.” Many of the tracks therein have been adapted as jazz standards time and again by some of the biggest names in classic jazz — musicians who Ringwald notes as a constant source of inspiration and musical education (Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.). Also included is one song previously untouched by jazz/lounge aficionados, a cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” most recognizable from the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club (Ringwald dedicates the song to the film’s late director, John Hughes).
The album gets off to a rocky start with Ringwald’s interpretation of Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later.” From the onset her chops are put to the test ranging from a vocal-heavy, rhythm-light intro to a savvy, swinging number. Ringwald tends to place her stresses in the most unusual places, always seeming to come in just a hair late and awkwardly holding out lifeless notes free of vibrato.
The album picks up a bit when the pace tones down. Ballads like the parenthetical title track, “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)” (Hoagy Carmichael), allow Ringwald to flex her strongest muscles in the form of a serene croon and help put forth the billowy vibrato that “Sooner or Later” was lacking. But the number comes off as slightly misdirected, playing out like an ill-fated Christmas carol. Although Ringwald claims to be getting along well without you, she’s putting forth disenchantment in spades.
The roller-coaster ride continues with track three, “I Believe in You” (Frank Loesser). The song features instrumentation that is incredibly lively, but it only further emphasizes that Ringwald’s inflections are anything but. The song, introduced by the lines “You have the cool, clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth/Yet there’s that upturned chin and the grin of impetuous youth,” should come off as playful. Ringwald’s demeanor here should be saucy, but her words just drip out, stern and blocky.
The instrumentation on Except Sometimes is consistently solid, but pianist Peter Smith in particular deserves a tip of the cap for his accompaniment on track five, “The Very Thought of You” (originally written and performed by Ray Noble). A clear high point for the album, Smith’s gentle, flowing rhythms perform dutifully in highlighting Ringwald’s somber serenade. The song’s sparse conclusion is one of few instances in which Ringwald stands well on her own two feet with minimal accompaniment.
Then there’s “Exactly Like You” by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. A jaunty number that has been taken on by an exceptional number of jazz legends, Ringwald’s version puts forth a little too much admiration for its prior recording artists. Here she appears to be struggling to bask in the likes of Ella and the many greats who had recorded the song prior. In attempts to replicate her idols’ smooth style and manner, Ringwald fails to establish her own personal grip on the snarky, charismatic tune.
The latter half of the album teeters on the edge of unremarkable. Her take on “Where is Love?” (Lionel Bart) comes off altogether dry, and while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this rendition, it lacks any discerning highlights, and by extension, substance. On “Pick Yourself Up” (Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields), another upbeat number, Ringwald’s voice comes forth as disappointingly static, showing no natural fluctuations to suit the chipper tune. Then there’s the overtly morose “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” (Frances Landsmen and Thomas J. Wolf), a slow, still number provided with minimal instrumentation that sounds altogether empty due to a sequence of poorly timed, elongated silences.
Closing out the album is Ringwald ‘s rendition of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” made famous by Simple Minds for the Breakfast Club soundtrack, which acts as a blessing and a curse. Though its dedication is a lovely gesture to the late John Hughes, closing her album with a quintessential anthem to the film that was a clear milestone in both his and Ringwald’s careers, why she would want to draw such a close tie to her overshadowing past while embarking on a new future in music is beyond reckoning. The fact is, the song is just ill-suited for a lounge adaptation. Thanks to its strong tie to the movie, the song will forever be associated with teen angst, and Ringwald’s interpretation as a lovelorn ballad strips the tune of all emotional power.
The dividing line between lounge and easy listening is one that is paper thin. It often boils down to a toss-up between two distinguishing qualities: bravado and charm. On Except Sometimes, Ringwald showcases an unfortunate lack of both. The end result is an album that, while technically proficient, is devoid of the life, passion, and soul that bonded the jazz legends who solidified these song selections with their audience.
Except Sometimes is available now from Amazon.com