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I was a little embarrassed to realize I was enjoying my own music so much, for in a way it was like hearing it for the first time. What Petra does with her voice, which is not so easy to do, is challenge the entire rock framework … When she does depart from the original music she does it purely to bring a little piece of herself — and when she appears she is so very welcome. I felt like I’d received something better than a Grammy. -Pete Townshend

So many times the title of an album is peripheral to what the contents actually hold. In the case of Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out it is perfectly descriptive because, yes, Petra Haden does sing the Who’s Who Sell Out album right down to the make-believe ads that link the songs. Not just the vocals but all the instruments too. Working from a suggestion from Mike Watt (who may or may not have remembered the Who’s own foray into singing instrumental parts on “A Quick One, While He’s Away” when they had to sing “cello, cello, cello” because they couldn’t afford to hire the real thing), Haden spent time during the span of three years (2000-2003) re-creating the sound of the Who’s pop-art masterpiece using her voice and an old eight-track recorder. The results are pretty amazing. Apart from an occasional rhythmic stumble and the tendency for the drum sounds to sound like synsonic drums, she really nails the layered, flowing and psychedelic in the true sense of the word feel of the original album. She pulls off the feat of being reverent to the original material while also sounding completely out on a limb artistically. Never trying to imitate instruments exactly, she instead goes for the feel and texture of them. It would have been impossible to sound like Keith Moon anyway and she wisely limits the drums to an occasional piece here and there.

The astounding moments are many but some of the best are the guitar plinks and twangs from “Our Love Was,” the drum hits and wailing guitar solos on “Relax,” the chant-like bass on “Silas Stingy” and the choral effects of “Rael.” Maybe the most impressive feat was managing to account for all the parts and pieces of “I Can See for Miles,” a task which would have driven a lesser artist insane but one that she makes sound effortless. The song that actually competes with the original is ” Sunrise” as she imbues the song with a feeling of joy and light equal to the original and her lead vocal is perfect. The aspect of the album that will probably be overlooked is the actual vocals — the vocals that sing the lyrics, that is. She has a crystal-clear, beautiful voice that really soars and her harmonies are consistently breathtaking. It would have been lovely enough just to hear her sing the Who’s melodies and lyrics without all the backing “instruments.” The likelihood that you will reach for Petra Haden’s version of Sell Out before you will reach for the Who’s will vary with each listener’s tolerance for novelty. Even the strictest Who purist should hear Haden’s version at least once though and anyone who likes to hear artists taking wild chances and succeeding wildly should hold up Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out as a shining example.

-Tim Sendra,


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