[a]Glen Campbell[/a] never commanded [B]Presley[/B]'s sultry, gospel-kissed depths or [a]Roy Orbison[/a]'s blazing, operatic peaks.....
[a]Glen Campbell[/a] never commanded Presley‘s sultry, gospel-kissed depths or [a]Roy Orbison[/a]’s blazing, operatic peaks. He may have played guitar for both Elvis and Sinatra and spent four months as a Beach Boy, but he never quite matched any of them in legend terms.
Although often dismissed as an anodyne white-bread minstrel, Campbell specialised in bittersweet cover versions which pitched his velveteen Deep South vocal timbre against meticulous light-orchestral arrangements. In his heyday he sounded like a country-tinged Burt Bacharach, teasing heavy emotions from featherlight MOR surroundings.
There’s a pleasing lack of cheesy camp or loungecore kitsch to most of this two-CD vintage retrospective, despite a preponderance of sugar-coated toe-tappers and post-Dylan folkie earnestness. Campbell‘s stately, downbeat glide through Jimmy Webb‘s ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ is still the definitive version, marking his first global hit and the start of a fertile partnership. Webb also penned the classic lovelorn anthem ‘Wichita Lineman’, the sublimely elegiac, thinly veiled Vietnam allegory ‘Galveston’, the Scott Walker-ish lament ‘Where’s The Playground Susie’ and many more Campbell standards.
The late-’60s were clearly a halcyon period for both men, because these honey-dipped compositions remain ageless and full of grace. The second disc, however, mainly serves to prove that the ’70s were less kind to Campbell. Sure, it contains his 1975 comeback ditties ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ and ‘Country Boy’, both on the theme of the backwoods innocent corrupted by the soulless music business. But there isn’t a single self-penned tune here, and it is not difficult to picture a jaded Campbell acceding to A&R demands for banal, Elton-ish pop like ‘Comeback’ or ‘Southern Nights’.
Admittedly the crisp arrangements never fail him and nor does his oak-panelled croon, but the songs somehow become flatter and blander. Campbell sounds like he was trying to update his sound without severing his downhome roots, thereby falling between two stools into mellow-muzak limbo.
By this time Campbell was living on borrowed glory. His future held cocaine abuse and marital turbulence followed by Christian temperance and redemption. But as these 46 tracks prove, the golden-throated country boy’s prime decade is still well worth revisiting.