Sometimes radical departures can produce startling results -- who would have thought that recasting a Nine Inch Nails staple as a country ballad would have been so effective? -- but sometimes they are just startling.
It is to be expected that if the Beatles have been perhaps the most influential force in the modern pop era, then their music would by necessity fall into the modern repertoire. In the process, the songs themselves have become something both less and more than they were originally intended to be, surpassing the circumstances of their origins and thereby becoming slightly bowdlerized and more than a little bit antiseptic. In time, as the cultures which spawned them fade into memory, all popular songs are transformed into museum pieces. The fact that the Beatles were able to actually record definitive versions of their work places them at odds with thousands of years of musical history -- it remains to be seen whether or not Sgt. Peppers and Abbey Road will still retain their aura of contemporary insistence in fifty or a hundred years, but people will probably still be singing "When I'm 64".
All of which is a rather elaborate way of saying that eventually even the Beatles will succumb to history, and it is perfectly reasonable to expect that children born today may grow up surrounded by the Beatles' music and influence without ever necessarily encountering the Beatles themselves. They'll continue to be an influence on musicians of every stripe for decades to come, so their music will retain at least some cultural cache. But, unfortunately, not all interpretations are born equally. Sometimes radical departures can produce startling results -- who would have thought that recasting a Nine Inch Nails staple as a country ballad would have been so effective? -- but sometimes they are just startling.
Such is the case, unfortunately, with Emmanuel Santarromana's Fab4Ever. I always try to keep an open mind about these things, but listening to the album, the first question that comes to mind is whether or not Santarromana has ever even heard the Beatles, or whether he hasn't just been given a pile of sheet music to interpret haphazardly. Because, honestly, if you had asked me about potential strategies to take when covering "Back in the U.S.S.R.", '80s goth-pop with coffeetable trip-hop overtones would not have been at the top of my list. Although Santarromana doesn't appear necessarily influenced by the Lord of Darkness, it is worth noting that "All Across the Universe" also features one of the worst Peter Murphy impressions I've ever heard.
But then, it would perhaps not be correct to say that the album takes too many chances with the material, as interpretations of tracks like "Come Together" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" are fairly standard. No, the album's cardinal sin is just how boring it is. Even the most left-field covers are executed with an unavoidable sheen of professionalism and studio acumen. Everything is just so damn tasteful, every bass lick perfectly precise and every orchestral flourish exactly calibrated not to overwhelm the mix. Even the attempts at "rock" guitar on tracks like "Paperback Writer" and "Day Tripper" seem perfectly calculated to achieve a scientifically deduced modicum of rockingness, as played by bespectacled studio sidemen who keep their fuzz pedals in nice and orderly rows and wipe them down with windex between uses.
And furthermore, at the risk of simply adding insult to injury, it seems as if Santarromana has gone out of his way to find the least interesting vocalists in the universe. His own vocals are fairly poor -- he barely seems to know how to sing, and English is not his first language. Neither of these are necessarily deal-breakers in rock music, except for the fact that he insists on speak-singing in a soft, overly-mannered and precisely enunciated manner that goes a long way to convincing one that he memorized the lyrics phonetically. Even when he does have an interesting idea, the lame vocals sabotage the execution, as on the jazzy trip-hop version of "We Can Work It Out", which flounders as soon as he opens his mouth. Zita Lotis-Faure sings "Come Together" like Macy Gray with a hangover. Nadeah Muranda sings "Paperback Writer" like she's auditioning for a touring company of Rent, which is about as horrifically misguided as it sounds.
I could go on, but I won't. Leave it be said that this is a very poor effort, and I am sincere in my fervent hope that Santarromana never, ever be allowed within 100 yards of the Beatles' catalog again, because with Fab4Ever he has perpetrated a great violence upon it.