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Engelbert Humperdinck

Sunday, May 22, at the Palace Theatre.


Most earnest pop performers have no idea when enough is enough, overstaying their welcome until their careers inevitably end in irony or tragedy. Except, of course, those pop performers who never really mean it in the first place, in which case the triumph of irony can be a weird kind of personal victory.

That's certainly the case for Engelbert Humperdinck and his erstwhile soft-pop rival of the 1960s and '70s, Tom Jones. Back in the day, these two products of English svengali Gordon Mills defined the range of non-rock pop from good-bad to bad-bad. Jones's best songs, like "It's Not Unusual," even nudged the barrier: These weren't just ballsy ballads, they were the only versions of "soft rock" that included the word "fun" in their definition. Humperdinck, on the other hand, updated the pop-schmaltz styles of Perry Como and Andy Williams for the age of rock celebrity. From his first big stateside smash, 1969's melodramatic "Release Me," to his last, 1976's plush come-on "After the Lovin'," Humperdinck offered overblown arrangements whose sincerity-mongering was undercut onstage only by his naughty patter and silly impersonations. At least, that is, until the old formulas became so mottled by time that their sincerity was no longer even an issue. By the mid-'90s, Humperdinck was even cutting a swinging number for a Beavis and Butt-head compilation called "Lesbian Seagull" that was at least as funny as Tom Jones's current dance album.

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