There was a time in my life when I had exactly TWO heroes. For several years, Grover and Glenn Campbell were all I aspired to be. I eventually outgrew Grover, but Campbell became even mightier as I discovered his list of credits as an ace session guitarist and a member of the “Wrecking Crew.” The man played guitar on “Pet Sounds.” Enough said.
When a legend makes an attempt at reinvention, the potentials are vast. On the one hand, you've got John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (brilliant). On the other, Pat Boone singing Ozzy Osbourne (tragic). So, I approached Campbell's “comeback” record, “Meet Glen Campbell” with both anticipation and skepticism. Would a childhood hero and bona fide Arkansas musical legend disappoint in this obvious attempt to remain relevant?
Unfortunately he does. The project was conceived and produced by Julian Raymond, who teams the 72-year-old singer with contemporary hits from the Foo Fighters, Travis, U2, Tom Petty and others, in some cases completely lifting arrangements note for note from the source materials (“Sing,” “Walls,” “Sadly Beautiful”).
When not completely recreating the original arrangements, Raymond creates ridiculous new ones. “Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life),” the song, which launched Green Day to superstar status, just plain sucks in this context. And it's neither Campbell nor the song's fault. The mix of country mandolin, odd mellotron strings and shredding guitar solo comes across as a joke played by bad frat party band. It's not genre bending, it's a lot of bad ideas being played at once.
Overall, the “modern” production elements completely overshadow the strength of Campbell's excellent voice. More importantly, most of these songs just aren't nearly as well crafted as the songs that made Campbell famous.
Notable exceptions are “These Days” (Nico) and “Sadly Beautiful” (Replacements). Of course, these recordings are almost track-by-track recreations of the originals, but Campbell's voice suits them perfectly.
The other stand-out track is “Grow Old With Me,” which is in some ways more Beatlesque than John Lennon's original. Campbell's version definitely stands as the most compelling interpretation on an otherwise flat collection of songs. If all the tracks lived up to the potential of “These Days,” “Sadly Beautiful,” and “Grow Old With Me,” the album would be a success.
Comparisons to Rick Rubin's Johnny Cash “American Recording” volumes are inevitable. As Rubin did, Raymond pairs an aging, iconic singer with a catalog of songs from younger songwriters. But the genius of the Rubin-produced Cash records is that Rubin stripped away lavish production to highlight what was brilliant about Johnny Cash — his ability to interpret a great song with little more than his voice and acoustic guitar.
Unlike Cash, Glen Campbell's best work was all bombast: lush strings, horns, and complicated arrangements of expertly crafted songs. Consequently, a return-to-form comeback album would require first rate arrangements and production that this record doesn't even come close to. Here's hoping Campbell's next effort is in the hands of a more able production team.