Album Reviews

Basia: The Sweetest Illusion (Cherry Pop)

basia

Basia
The Sweetest Illusion
Cherry Pop

By the early 1990s, Polish jazz/pop vocalist Basia was an international success. Her debut album, Time And Tide, had appeared in 1987 and impressed, but its follow-up two years later, London Warsaw New York, propelled her to new heights, with fantastic numbers such as “Baby You’re Mine,” “Cruising For Bruising,” and album cut “Brave New Hope” quickly becoming smooth jazz radio playlist standards. It was a fantastic, gorgeous album that deserved the worldwide acclaim it received, making Basia a household name in the smooth jazz world.

The Sweetest Illusion, her third album, appeared four years later. Produced by Basia and creative parter Danny White, the album retained the smooth jazz elements that had made their previous records so satisfying. But this time around, the band explored more modern pop production styles, resulting in an album that retained its mellowness while occasionally being much more playful and groove-oriented. It was a risk, but they pulled it off; songs like “Yearning,” “Perfect Mother,” and “Simple Pleasures” hearken back to the jazz balladry that made her previous records so satisfying, while “Drunk On Love,” “An Olive Tree,” and “Third Time Lucky” added an upbeat pop groove that prevents The Sweetest Illusion from being a mere retread of the ground covered by her previous releases.

This deluxe reissue expands The Sweetest Illusion into three albums, and for the most part, the bonuses are quite rewarding. Disc two contains four songs recorded at the sessions but released elsewhere; these include a fine Christmas song, “Angels Blush,” a cover of an Antonio Carlos Jobim number, “Waters of March,” and two originals, “Clear Horizon” and “Go For You,” two very fine ballads that would appear on a greatest hits record. The fifth is a heavily remixed version of Matt Bianco’s “Half A Minute,” a single extracted from the 1995 live album, Basia on Broadway, which appeared barely a year after The Sweetest Illusion’s release. (So heavily mixed is the single, it’s almost impossible to tell it’s a live recording.) But the sweetest plum is the instrumental version of the entirety of The Sweetest Illusion; aside from the whistling on “Third Time Lucky,” none of these instrumental tracks feel lacking, all of which stand alone as gorgeous, smooth jazz masterpieces. The third disc contains multiple remixes of “Drunk On Love” and “Third Time Lucky,” and are of varying quality and interest, but neither enhance nor detract from the rest of the package.

The Sweetest Illusion performed well, but with a rules change in the charting system—smooth jazz was now given its own chart and not tied in with Adult Contemporary—meant that the album’s singles didn’t get the widespread exposure that her previous singles had. Furthermore, executives at the label were supportive, but they felt that she needed to take her music into a more straightforward pop direction, and decided to market two of her singles for the dance scene. It wasn’t a complete disaster—a remix of “Drunk On Love” would top the Billboard Dance charts—but it came at the sacrifice of promoting the single to a wider audience. A minor quibble; it was still an internationally successful record, and perhaps expecting it to top or exceed London Warsaw New York’s success is perhaps a bit unrealistic, and ultimately those things don’t matter, as the music itself proved to be some of Basia’s finest to date.

Frustratingly, The Sweetest Illusion would prove to be her final album during this successful era. The amount of work involved in sustaining an international career proved tiring, and with some personal tragedies, she essentially retired from her solo career, preferring to enjoy the fruits of her success. She would occasionally return; in 2004, she would reunite with Matt Bianco, and has performed and recorded with them sporadically ever since. While it’s a shame she walked away from her solo career, The Sweetest Illusion is one helluva finale. 

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