Petra Haden’s violin playing and somewhat off-center vocals added an interesting dimension to the pop sounds of bands like that dog. and The Rentals. The prospect of a complete cover version of The Who’s classic The Who Sell Out sounded promising and worthwhile. Well, I’ve been wrong before, and I’m wrong about this one too. Terribly, terribly wrong.
So how did this album even come to be? Well, you can thank Mike Watt. Point the finger at him. He gave her an 8-track cassette with the original album on one of the tracks, and left the other seven empty for Petra to not only cover the album herself, but do it a cappella. Ah yes, so Haden does actually sing the entire album by herself, with herself, and of herself. And yes, she even covers the little jingles in between the songs.
It’s not that Haden can’t sing. She can do that quite well, but listening to her work her way through this material in such a manner is just nauseating. The sound quality is bottom of the barrel, containing plenty of tape hiss and that lo-fi sound you’d expect from such a home-spun project. Then there are the mistakes that will jump out immediately to any Who fan. The missing final line of “Heinz Baked Beans”, the complete screw up of the first line of “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand”, and so forth. The quasi-operatic rendering of “Odorono” is just too much. Even my wife snapped, “What the hell is this? Is this a joke? She completely ruined that album!”
I was sent two review copies of this album. The first one had the songs completely out of order. The PR folks must have realized they made a mistake and sent out a second copy with everything properly sequenced. The sad part is the damn thing almost worked better out of order, so pointless and lousy is this release. Whether or not it unintentionally damns the original, you’ll just be screaming to hear the real genius of the original and pass this goofball item into the trash can after you’ve heard it once.
If you’re at all familiar with The Who Sell Out, then you might want to give this one a listen, but chances are you won’t want to plunk any money down for it. And I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t heard the original album being interested in this version, unless they’re simply a fan of Petra Haden. Either way, this Sell Out is anything but. Stick with the original.