A lack of creativity in the popular music scene of the early 21st century can be blamed on us, the progeny of the flower children. Why is the college generation of today so willing to defer to authority? Why are we not passionate about life and liberty? And why must we strive for wealth first, integrity second? By the same token, why do we let beautiful music remain undiscovered and embedded in the annals of what might be?
We’ve essentially chosen to become the after-jizz, that leftover juice of orgasm that was unsuccessful at reaching the target. Nowhere is this message of generational futility more present than in the release of the soundtrack to Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer’s new movie, “I Am Sam.”
A pantheon of left-of-center rock performers light up a playlist that boasts 17 different Beatles covers, although producer Jesse Nelson did not intend it that way. The disgruntled exec was forced to go with the cover plan after being refused the rights to the original Beatles recordings. Nevertheless, Nelson has given us a chance to see how Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, Grandaddy, the Wallflowers and a host of others have chosen to adapt such Beatles classics as “Across the Universe,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Revolution” and “Let It Be.”
The first third gives away nothing of this homage’s spiral to disaster. Sarah McLachlan’s rendition of “Blackbird” recreates the tender pleasure of the original version and has some well placed vocal undertones that bring the song all the way through to the finish. In “Golden Slumbers,” Ben Folds plays the lullaby as himself. His music is an uplifting force, and his immeasurable talents on the piano overshadow his shaky and often sour Carolina voice.
And Ben Harper steals the show in “Strawberry Fields Forever,” breaking apart the original into its seminal shreds, rearranging them to create a work that is truly his own. Harper hits off a mind-boggling jam at the end that reaffirms his position as America’s greatest lap slide guitarist.
But the auspicious beginning of the soundtrack is all for naught, for the rest trails off into the recesses of that which could have been — a fitting conclusion, what with the current state of popular music.
Howie Day’s “Help!” is strangled by its general apathy to the song’s title. Day seems so bored that “Help!” is replaced with “Help, if you’ve got the time and you’re not too busy.”
In “Julia,” Chocolate Genius is neither chocolate nor genius (discuss among yourselves) and for some odd reason has decided to go with a whiny harmonica to complement his already morbidly out of place vocals. The harmonica blasts last so long in this muffled attempt that I found myself counting the intervals like a kid at Yom Kippur mesmerized by the blast of the shofar. Now, as you math wizards out there know, Yom Kippur + Beatles does not equal good music.
And, finally, there’s Nick Cave’s butchering of “Let It Be.” Cave’s deep baritone voice might have worked if it weren’t so eerily similar to that of the great Afroman. Thus when Cave asks for Mother Mary to comfort him, you’d have sworn he was supposed to say, “But then I got high.”
In the end, the soundtrack simply falls to pieces. It starts off brilliant and unique, a refreshing burst of energy to songs we’ve already come to know and love. When it’s all over with, you just find yourself wishing that Nelson could have swung it as he initially planned and never let this whole mess happen in the first place.