Pat Boone In A Metal Mood
No More Mr. Nice Guy

You may have seen him strut onstage at the American Music Awards in a leather vest. Or read an article about his return to rock 'n' roll with this new album of classic hard rock songs (performed with an orchestra). Or seen him promoting this album recently on a talk show.

You may have asked yourself: "Has Pat Boone lost his mind?"

One listen to this album will have you giving an unqualified "yes."

This album is about as easy to swallow as a William Shatner singalong. You simply can't do it without laughing hysterically. Especially if you're familiar with the material he's tackling. No More Mr. Nice Guy is an album of a dozen of metal's greatest hits: from Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" and Van Halen's "Panama" to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." And Boone, with the help of a 19-piece band, turns them into swing jazz numbers.

Now a swing jazz metal album isn't necessarily a terrible idea — certainly different, but not inherently bad. Someone like Frank Sinatra might have had the attitude to pull this off 10 or 20 years ago. Even Harry Connick, Jr., today could probably lend credibility to such an effort. But Boone's chutzpah is supremely misplaced; he doesn't have the vocal chops to pull off swing very effectively. And it's obvious in his faux "hip" phrasing that he simply doesn't understand or respect the music he's transmuting.

This is the equivalent of AC/DC singing "Ave Maria" or the local minister leading his congregation in a solemn version of Aerosmith's "Love In An Elevator" from the pulpit. Either example smacks of sacrilege.

That said, there are some inspired moments of orchestration here. Nazareth's "Love Hurts" is a natural for a quiet lounge piano interpretation, which Boone pulls off without embarrassment.

And the arrangement on Metallica's "Enter Sandman" is demonically inspired. With a slaloming course of bright horns, soloing sax and background singers, the once-dark and brooding metal anthem is inverted into a celebratory dance floor twister. Boone's deep vocals fit easily into Metallica's naturally bass-oriented melody. You've really got to hear this one to believe it.

Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" and Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" already had a drama inherent in their original arrangements; consequently Boone's orchestra doesn't so much depart from those songs as build on them. These might actually appeal to Boone's fan base (if there really still is such a thing).

What's really strange is the artists who agreed to appear on their own songs on this album. Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore plays guitar on Boone's clueless rendition of "Smoke on the Water," and Ronnie James Dio sings backups on his own "Holy Diver," which sports a 1940s-sounding horn section and (bop-bop-bop background vocals). Maybe they were intrigued by the challenge of having their past hits so thoroughly altered. Or maybe they really needed a paycheck.

Ultimately, it's not the fact that there's a full orchestra taking hard rock anthems to Swing Street that's the problem. It's Boone's affected and corny vocals. Barry Manilow could probably have done a straighter job as the man on the mic for these schmaltzy numbers. You can picture Bill Murray's "Saturday Night Live" caricature of a Vegas lounge lizard when Boone tackles the flute, piano and horn-powered elevator music of "Stairway to Heaven." or the hepcat stacatto horn and organ staff of AC/DC's "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N Roll)."

The arrangement for Guns 'N' Roses' "Paradise City" is appropriately fast and led by a chatty piano — but Boone's lack of vocal range (not to mention lack of understanding of where the power of this song lies) turns it all into an insipid exercise.

Boone and band also muddle through Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," Ozzie Osbourne's "Crazy Train," and Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy," (the latter song was the genesis for the concept of this album, which a member of Boone's band came up with almost a decade ago.)

If you'd like a good party joke, buy No More Mr. Nice Guy. It's bound to be a conversation-jumpstarting success. I've played it for several people over the past week with a range of tastes and ages (from 20somethings to 40somethings) and the first thing any of them did was laugh.

Maybe Boone should consider moving into musical comedy?