Why even your granny can sing along with Michael
Ahead of the Canadian star's Dublin gigs, Ed Power ponders our very modern love affair with nostlagia
Under the swooping sci-fi buttresses of the Aviva Stadium, Ireland's largest ever swingers' club gets under way tonight. Some 45,000 fans will pack the venue to hear crooner Michael Bublé dapperly wend his way through such pre-rock and roll standards as 'Me and Mrs Jones', 'Mack The Knife' and 'How Sweet It Is' (as well as a bow-tie wearing version of, 'er, Justin Timberlake's 'I'm Lovin' It').
He's back for second helpings the following evening, when thousands more will cram the Aviva for the repeat performance. At a time when the biggest new rock bands on the planet -- Oxegen headliners Arcade Fire and Muse, for instance -- could walk down Grafton Street unrecognised, Bublé, a skinny young Canadian with too much gel in his hair, is a proper arena superstar.
Bublé is also single- handedly reversing the trend of declining record sales -- in the face of luke-warm reviews, Bublé's latest album Crazy Love has shifted six million copies. This at a time when Radiohead are reduced to giving their music away for free and sales of U2's most recent opus, No Line On The Horizon, barely scraped past the one million mark. In a retail smack-down Bublé is, in other words, six times as popular as Bono and chums.
What's going on here? Without question Bublé's smoky cocktail-hour warblings are tapping into a wider shift in the culture. Is it any coincidence his ascension to international stardom coincides with the popularity of shows such as Mad Men, in which vintage chic is as much part of the attraction as plot? Or that the squeaky-clean Glee is charming TV viewers across the globe with its pre-rock and roll imaginings of the modern pop songbook?
In the UK, there's even a magazine, The Chap, dedicating to promoting "a dandified way of life". Extolling the joys of tweed, pipe-smoking, brogues and finely-pressed trousers, the publication holds up celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley as examples of old-school elan.
For his part, Bublé claims nostalgia doesn't come into it. He grew up loving Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald not because they reminded him of some idealised past but because, to a shy kid, their swagger and (non-ironic) charm felt fresh and exciting.
"I was always taken by this style," he said in an interview "Listening to Mel Tormé or Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra as a kid was so great because they had this dulcet tonal quality that I hadn't heard in modern singers."
If there's a secret to his success it is probably that he never worried about fitting in. "When I was 12 (Bublé's grandfather) played me Vic Damone's version of 'It Had to Be You' and I told him that it was great, so he started making me tapes from his old records. For the first time I was hearing Al Martino and the Mills Brothers, and I would be learning 10 of these songs a day by heart because I loved them so much. See, I always had a bad attitude towards conforming and I never wanted to be trendy, so I couldn't give a shit about what everyone at school was into."
You don't need to visit the Aviva to catch wind of this vogue, of course. Soon it's going to be everywhere. "Woman wise, certainly evening dresses . . . the Mad Men look is what's really happening this season," says Chris Lynch of Epoch vintage fashion in Dublin.
Those who are old enough to remember the '50s and '60s first-hand are in little doubt as to why the public is embracing Bublé and all he represents.
After 50 years of noise and anarchy, people are rediscovering the joys of good manners, well made cocktails and a decent side-parting.
'Rock and roll was a terrible thing to happen to music," crooner Tony Bennett told me over the summer. "Before that, you had magnificent musicians like Benny Goodman and great singers like Peggy Lee and Billie Holiday. It was based on real educated musicians.
"I sell more records than anyone else on my label, Columbia. Because the whole family is buying them. The corporations had this thing with demographics. They made all the records for the young. Which I thought was a mistake. When I started as a young performer, you played to the whole family."
Aspiring Don Drapers should take note, however. In the fashion realm, at least, this trend is, for now, a ladies-only affair. Short of cheating on your stay at home wife or enjoying a five-Martini lunch, the closest most Irish guys are likely to get to a swinging Rat Pack existence is singing along to Michael Bublé tonight.
"For the men it's very hard because in the pre-rock era everybody basically wore suits," says Chris Lynch. "Even going out at night, I don't think men are really into that nowadays." Michael Buble plays the Aviva, Dublin, tonight and tomorrow