Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Guilty pleasures

Journey. 'Don't stop believin'' A song that exists only in hyperbole. There's no point in making some coy approach; to do so would be cowardly.

Like it or not, it's one of the best pop songs of the eighties, which is quite an accomplishment, since it was released in 1981. I would not dare try to debunk its status as a guilty pleasure - hell, it's as cheesy as it is anthemic - but guilt be what it may, 'Don't stop believin'' exceeds every goal it sets for itself.

And I thought it was pretty much untouchable until this week. I hadn't encountered any cover versions of the song before now, and it is telling that few artists seem to have attempted it. But along comes Petra Haden, and all bets are off.

She's a multi-instrumentalist who is better known for her ability to use her own voice, Bobby McFerrin-like, to create the illusion of a fully arranged track. She may be best known for her completely a cappella rendition of Who's The Who Sell Out, start to finish (faux commercials and everything.) More recently she's turned her attention to Journey, as part of a new, appropriately titled compilation Guilt By Association, which is due out in a couple weeks.

Petra already has a bit of a cult following, but this track has quickly put her on the buzz list, and I think within the month everyone will have heard the song and seen the cute video a contest winner made for it. (I wouldn't be surprised if there were some commercial airplay for her version, too.) The song starts as an explicit reference to Swingle Singers, bom-bom-ing in four part harmony, in that chord progression that is recognizable before the first word is sung. Petra strikes a smart balance between singing the song straight and injecting some palatable irony into her delivery. Her ability to capture vocally the iconic guitar solos is nothing short of amazing. For the most part, it's a faithful cover. I can't decide how I feel about the stray Wilson Phillips reference near the end; it definitely fits, but it's the only diluted moment, and it feels a little like Petra can't quite commit to the song as an homage.

Regardless, it's amazing, and no matter if you are willing to acknowledge your feelings about the original in public, you'll definitely experience a moment of wonder at this cover, at the very least. I am one who feels very strongly that there is a solid place for guilty pleasures in one's musical tastes. The fact that I'm too embarrassed to reveal most of them is what makes them guilty pleasures, after all. But this I tell you: cultivate yours, under a hydroponic light in your closet if necessary, and know that anyone who denies having them is lying.

Petra Haden official website