Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out
f, as Stylus writer Matt Cibula puts it, “all music is corny,” place Petra Haden in the category of a bit cornier than most. This is a good thing. Petra Haden spent the better part of four years with one eight-track recorder, a microphone, and a copy of The Who Sell Out, attempting to recreate the entire record merely with the sound of her own voice. Umm, including all of the linking advertisements. Corny? Sure. A success nonetheless? Definitely.
It’s not novelty, though. Haden operates from a fairly secure lineage of forward-thinking voice artists, Bjork being only the most recent and high-profile. But Haden isn’t nearly as avant-garde about it. Her past musical history covers a safer and more traditional road of back-up singing jobs in groups like The Rentals and that dog. It was on her own solo debut Imaginaryland that it became clear, however, that Haden had more interest in her own singing than the instruments of others. Besides, when you can sing them just as well without, why bother?
While Haden is no Rahzel, her approximations come close enough to the actual feel of the original, while retaining the spirit of the human voice. This is the crucial element to the whole effort in the end. Since Haden doesn’t try to imitate completely, the record is truly Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out rather than just the latter piece. Also, as you might expect, Haden’s voice helps to transform some of the tracks, giving them a completely different feel. “Sunrise” and “Our Love Was” are even more affecting than the original versions, for example, while tracks like “Relax” and “I Can See For Miles” take on an eerie, voice-from-beyond quality.
The album, which clocks in at forty minutes, drags a bit at times—Haden’s voice is incredibl, but it can’t help to be limited in scope at some points. Perhaps the whole thing would be better served as an EP of some sort, a novelty item for people to marvel over. But what Haden has created here is so much more than that. The work of four years is embedded in each “ah,” “um,” and approximated guitar line that turns up, proving that Haden’s work is a labor of love, rather than just another laugh. Hopefully, with the appropriate album sales, we can have this debate quite a bit sooner next time around.
Reviewed by: Sarah Kahrl
Reviewed on: 2005-03-04