This was an obvious attempt to 'do a Johnny'...
Chris Long 2008-08-21
Country artists covering contemporary songs is nothing new, but ever since Johnny Cash made the American Recordings series, the way those covers are judged has changed. Every song is held up to the brilliance of the Man In Black, and if they don't meet the standard, they're left to swing miserably in the wind. It's an unenviable burden to bear for any artist, and one that even the great Glen Campbell can't escape. Understandably, he falls short of the benchmark, but even if you disregard the Cash effect, Meet Glen Campbell is hopeless.
The album's problems are many, not least Campbell's singing style. He comes from a time and a tradition where annunciation and clarity are the key, but the songs he has chosen – the Foo Fighters' rollicking Times Like These or U2's All I Want Is You – were never written to ring clearly. They are songs driven by feeling, whose words are meant to blister with passion, and in his steady approach, Campbell saps them of emotion and renders them pedestrian.
He’s not helped by his choices. Faced with the entire history of music to choose from, it's telling that Campbell decided to include two songs from Tom Petty and neither of them are the plodding rocker’s only moment of genius, Free Fallin'. They aren't the only bad decisions. The album opens with Travis' Sing, a nadir in the Scottish band's career of tedium, and closes with John Lennon's most nauseating, sentimental and desperately dull moment, Grow Old With Me. It's as if Glen wanted to underline his lack of adventure by bookending his album with utter dreariness.
Above all, though, the glaring mistake of Meet Glen Campbell is the fact that he fails to do the one thing that makes Cash's American Recordings so special – he never stamps his mark on the songs. And this from the man who played with La's top session band, 'The Wrecking Crew', stood in for Brian Wilson on tour AND recorded Wichita Lineman.
Only his most unexpected choice, a double-beat, banjo-laden take on Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life), comes close to making this exercise worthwhile. By stepping up the tempo and allowing a little freewheeling, he takes the introspective original and turns it into the meandering soundtrack of a mid-west road trip.
Unsurprisingly, it isn't enough to save the album. There's no doubt that the rhinestone cowboy's fans will lap this up, but this was an obvious attempt to 'do a Johnny' and snare himself a new audience – and in that aim, he has failed spectacularly.