[29 March 2012]
Glen Campbell experiences the misfortune of being a 1970s pop star in the 2010s, and like conspecific Neil Diamond (the similarity is specifically epochal), is by and large misunderstood by younger generations of even otherwise savvy rock gourmets. However, Glen deserves to be taken as seriously by us and he does himself: underneath the timeworn rhinestones and arcadian imagery, the True Grit and Norwood associations and the incorrigible conservatism—lies a poignant, penetrating voice that hasn’t withered a glint. And now more than ever, in the days of ubiquitous performance manipulation, an honest, atemporal voice is more valuable than happening aesthetic (it’s worth noting that, at the time of this review’s publication, these recordings are already over three years old).
The tracks (which, to nobody’s astonishment, are all covers) on Meet Glen Campbell might appear motley and eclectic—and in the case of his cover of “Jesus” by Lou Reed, a tad awkward and inappropriate—but if only for the superficial reason that these are compositions (mostly) by a generation of songwriters who were barely pubescent at the tag end of Campbell’s country radio reign. The bonus tracks included on this miserly 2012 reissue are exiguous additions that hardly justify the “expanded edition” tag: These include pleasant if inconsequential remixes of classic Campbell hits (“Gentle on My Mind”, “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman”) as well as three in-studio performances of “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy”, and a strange-in-its-relative-sparseness, yet spellbinding live cover of U2’s “All I Want Is You”.
However, there’s still a lot to be said for the original sequence. The two opening tracks, “Sing”, originally by Travis, and the slightly less contemporary “Walls” by Tom Petty suit Campbell’s voice and flare so unexpectedly well that if you close your eyes tight enough you can imagine him performing them on Midnight Special, circa ‘75 (when else?). Campbell unsuccessfully transforms Tom Petty’s “Angel Dream” from a disconsolate, finger-plucked acoustic number into full-blown, grab-yer-pardner gaiety (complete with busy banjo), and the only magic that remains are the words (which are sung with indifference). His rendition of “Times Like These” by Foo Fighters is unrecognizable, and I mean that in the absolute best way; conversely, it benefits the most of all the selections from Campbell’s reinterpretation. “These Days” and Paul Westerberg’s “Sadly Beautiful” are the two most melancholy songs on the album and thankfully, Campbell does them justice with his faithful performances. On the flipside is his cover of the Velvet Underground’s ambiguous and suspicious “Jesus” which is performed faithfully in a different sense entirely, and is likely being sorely misinterpreted by Campbell (imagine Randy Newman’s “Short People” being covered by someone with a genuine dwarf prejudice), but regardless, features some of the album’s most impeccable singing. Green Day’s “Good Riddance” is a sheer train wreck of a composition with nary a salvageable component, but Lennon’s “Grow Old With Me”, while perhaps sounding a bit too prude and “divine” than it ideally should, redeems this misstep.
Meet Glen Campbell showcases the singularity of Campbell’s interpretive talents as a singer spectacularly. But there is hardly any reason to buy this skimpy “expanded edition” unless you don’t already own the record in some other form.