I know there’s money to be made, but for the life of me, I don’t understand why we’re talking about a new Glen Campbell greatest hits album. There’s well over a dozen of them out there already, the most recent one a very comprehensive 25-song set (All The Best) of remastered material from five years ago. And then there’s a string of low-budget best-of compilations that you can find for cheap at drug stores, truck stops, or any other retail outlet that happens to stock a few dozen cds near the cash register for impulse purchases.
All of them probably serve Campbell well financially, and Lord knows he’s entitled to it. The man is a legendary crooner and an overlooked picker, all of which screams for higher quality control when it comes down to releasing compilations to a market that’s already flooded with them.
If you’ve got to have the hits, start with that aforementioned 2003 release. It contains 9 more tracks than this 2009 edition and they’re all remastered from the original versions. What you’re looking at with this most recent edition is 14 tracks of classic Campbell plus two tracks from last year’s ironically titled Meet Glen Campbell (more on that later). The gimmick here is that all of Glen’s classic material presented here has been “remixed” in a move to get these tracks to sound “contemporary.” Someone felt the need to tidy up the sound of these already impeccable recordings with brighter highs, compressed fidelity, and EQ’d instrumentation to make everything sound like it could have been recorded last year instead of 30-40 years ago. It’s pointless and some might even consider it a travesty given the lush arrangements of tracks like “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” or “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” which beg for space instead of sonic constraints.
Then again, this entire package seems like it’s geared towards the novice, a new generation of listener who is suddenly on the hip tip and looking for an iconic presence like Campbell in their iPod. To that market, Greatest Hits circa ’09 succeeds, but value priced downloads of Glen’s late ’60s Capital albums are a more logical direction.
With that being said, Greatest Hits did manage to show me something new, which is one of its intents, I suppose. After running through those 14 tracks of unparallelled greatness, this version tacks on those aforementioned new entries: a cover of Foo Fighter‘s “Times Like These” and the Jackson Browne penned “These Days.” The latter was impeccably voiced by Nico and it’s hard to imagine anyone coming close to her definitive version. But using a very bare arrangement similar to the chanteuse’s version, Campbell comes damn close to making the thing his own. It’s stunning, a revelation, and it alone will have me looking for Meet Glen Campbell.
Campbell performs similar magic with Foo Fighter’s “Times Like These” (mp3). I put his version right next to “Galveston” and I’ll be damned if the two don’t sound strangely familiar. From the strumming acoustic guitar to the sweeping strings, whoever was manning the wheels of Campbell’s album last year clearly did their homework.
If you’re about to study up on Glen Campbell for the first time, this new Greatest Hits may not be the textbook you need, but it could be the cheat sheet necessary to open up the vast discography of an American legend who needs no introduction, but does need the occasional reminder. Consider this to be your own nudge that reminds you of Glen’s tremendous past and how he’s still making some great music today.