Monday, 1 June 2009

1985 Elaine Paige And Barbara Dickinson: I Know Him So Well

After the break-up of ABBA, Benny and Bjorn hooked up with Tim Rice to pen the musical 'Chess', an odd tale about a love triangle playing out at the World Chess Championship being held in Italy. It doesn't exactly inspire the imagination when put like that, but no matter - no knowledge of chess is required to appreciate 'I Know Him So Well'. Which is probably just as well.

It's difficult to regard this as a 'single' per se; it's a song written to be interpreted rather than to be associated with any particular artist, though Paige and Dickinson are a textbook definition of 'a safe pair of hands' when it comes to material like this. Although obviously part of an ongoing narrative, it's clear enough in premise to stand apart from the story (much like, say 'Memory' or 'Send In The Clowns' can) and it gives the dual viewpoints of the wife and mistress of one of one of the male characters as they count off his vices and virtues and each come to the same conclusion independently of each other.

As a song it's pure theatre, a guaranteed latter day show stopper for the understudies and chorus girls to drool over in a 'one day that will be me' kind of way. The interlocking lyrics and interplay of the two voices provides irony drama aplenty as the women mistakenly believe that only they have the key to unlock what the twin perspectives reveal to be a very predictable man, and the chorus swirls to a climax of intensity that's very reminiscent of a late ABBA track.

And ironically, 'I Know Him So Well' would have worked far better had it been sung by the markedly different voices of Agnetha and Anna-Frid because, as competent and professional as Ms's Paige and Dickinson may be, their vocals are similar almost to the point of being interchangeable and this defeats the object of the song somewhat. Without the visuals, it's difficult to tell who is singing what here and the whole loses intensity like a slow puncture because of it.

Of course, there would be no such issues when watching it on stage, but without the third dimension the Paige/Dickinson version suffers but through no fault of it's own; at base level, the song is a good and memorable one built by a team of craftsmen well versed in their trade.

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