Archive for August 20th, 2008

Meta-Shite

I noticed that the new Glen Campbell album, which I panned below, is getting fairly decent reviews on Metacritic, which conducts a survey of reviews of prominent music journals. The ‘meta’ rating, and most of the ratings used to supply the ‘meta’ rating, are unreliable, nay worthless.

To give you an example: take the recent reviews down the left hand side of the page. There are 166 records on display there. Of these, 141 receive a metascore rating of >60, which means generally favourable reviews. That means, according to Metacritic, that a whopping 85% of the content is good stuff! In which case, if Metacritic is in any way reliable, that means we’re living in a golden age for popular music.

Of course, the figure is total bullshit, as confirmed by the presence of Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue up near the top. I couldn’t believe the raving crap that got written about this album, which has a couple of decent tracks (Moonshine, Rainbows), a couple of outstanding ones (River Song, Thoughts of You) and a load of filler with embarassingly bad lyrics (Pacific Ocean Blues: ‘We live on the edge of a body of water/Warmed by the blood of the cold hearted/Slaughter of otter/Wonder how she feels mother seal’).

From the pseuds’ corner end of the spectrum, Richard Williams in the Guardian praised the ‘strategic use of banjo‘, ‘textures and densities constantly in flux’ and ‘quasi-Dixieland collective polyphony…almost cinematic in effect, conceptually well ahead of anything else being attempted at the time.’

And The Sun gave it 5 stars too, describing Dennis Wilson as a genius.

The principal appeal of Dennis Wilson is the fact that he took loads of drugs, drank the head off himself, had sex with lots of women and hung out with the Manson family, and still managed to write the odd decent tune (Slip On Through, for instance, on the Beach Boys’ Sunflower album, is superb) and remain reasonably good-looking. Brian Wilson -who really was a genius- by contrast turned into a big fat mad beardy pig and therefore not an aspirational icon for the type of people Steven Wells describes as ‘he least rock’n’roll creatures on the planet – balding white suburbanites with mortgages, unhappy marriages, huge stomachs and enormous, carefully annotated vinyl and CD collections‘.

Foxy

In terms of songs about foxes committing suicide with Stanley knives, this has to be the finest song ever.

Glen Twaddle

Changing the subject somewhat, I thought I’d write a few posts charting my encounters with music these days. For some unprobed reason, my finger has wiggled its way slowly towards the pulse, wherefromwhich it fell some 13 or 14 years ago. Not that this fact would become clear from the first record to which I refer here: Meet Glen Campbell, which came out yesterday, and which I have listened to once. My own enthusiasm for Glen Campbell I have covered previously, and when I did, I mentioned that he needed ‘someone like Rick Rubin to help him put together an album’, referring to Rick Rubin’s rehabilitation of Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash.

A rehabilitation has been conducted, but not in the pared-down manner characteristic of Rick Rubin. Rather, under the supervision of Julian Raymond, the intention has been to recreate the sound of Glen Campbell’s heavily orchestrated late ’60s and early ’70s music. Fair enough: despite his history as a crack session musician, his musical identity consisted, to my mind anyway, of the sound of his smooth tenor and twanging guitar atop a thick carpet of MOR strings. There was no trobadour hidden underneath. Judged purely in terms of an attempt to regenerate Campbell’s sound, the record is impressive for the same reasons as one might admire the set detail of Life On Mars.

Where it fails is precisely where Johnny Cash’s rehabilitation succeeded: in the selection of more contemporary songs. His version of ‘Sing’ by Travis is a major improvement on the original, but it’s still a terrible song. He fares better with ‘Walls’ and ‘Angel Dream’, both by Tom Petty, the form and simple lyrical content seem to fit well with the production. But whereas Cash’s success was founded on the strength of his own powers of reinterpretation, Glen Campbell has no such powers. The best things in his back catalogue are the Jimmy Webb songs, which were mostly written with his voice in mind. Campbell’s smooth burr was an ideal vessel for Webb’s bittersweet reflections. There was no need for Campbell to suffuse the singing with any sort of personal drama. All he had to do to produce the goods was to sing the words to the melody. Not all songs are like Jimmy Webb’s, though.

And the problem here is that Campbell either isn’t able, or isn’t bothered, to interpret the songs for his own voice so that their meaning flows through his voice, rather than, as is too often the case here, producing an effect of Glen Campbell Sings The Replacements, or Glen Campbell Sings The Velvet Underground.

In the case of The Replacements’ Sadly Beautiful, a magnificent song, the effect is Sadly Terrible And Sort Of Embarrassing. The point of the original was how the vaguely sentimental lyrics worked against Westerberg’s cracked voice and the sparse, stark instrumentation, but here it’s thick sweater and big coffee mug time.  Disastrous.

Worse still is his rendition of Jesus -a song I never cared for much anyway- where the sense of seamy crisis of the original gives way to one of those revoltingly self-satisfied retrospective melodramas that you often get from the born again. I started to wonder what projectile vomiting might look like.

The U2 cover is better than the original, proving that some pigs can be marginally improved by a touch of lipstick. The Foo Fighters Green Day’s ‘Time of Your Life’ was a dreadful song, but Glen does it an injustice anyway.

Avoid, unless you’re sick in the head. But I recommend The Capitol Years 66-77 compilation if you’re wondering why I might have taken an interest in the guy in the first place.


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