Artist: Petra Haden
Album: Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out and Imaginaryland
Label: Bar/None Records
Release Date: 04/22/2016
Much like mime, a cappella is generally best enjoyed in limited doses. Barbershop quartets and the occasional experimental tome aside, it can go only so far based on cleverness and creativity. Petra Haden did her best to squeeze out extra advantage with her first two albums, Imaginaryland and Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out, but even her razzle dazzle attempts to reinvent classics and cover songs (on the former) and the Who (via the latter) manage to wear a little thin after too heavy a dose. Taken in tandem, the two albums come close to overkill, even though Haden deserves credit for invention, tapping sources as varied as Enya and Bach, and ultimately, plowing her way through the complexities of The Who Sell Out was no small feat — but there does come a point where one ceases to be amazed, and wishes instead to avoid additional indulgence.
A partial solution might be to hear the Who redux first before venturing into Imaginaryland’s odds and sods, allowing one to gasp in amazement at the way Haden gave something so familiar an entirely new life through the solitary sound of the human voice. Indeed, Haden captured every nuance that Townshend and company invested in their original opus, complete with its psychedelic flourishes and the series of mock radio commercials that were scattered between songs. A herculean feat by any measure, she pulls it off with aplomb. A thorough listen builds interest and momentum for a listen to the other, which can then be taken in small soundbites before Haden wears out her welcome.
Ultimately, both albums are best considered novelties, as well as fine examples of how Haden executed her ambitions. Repeated listens may be unlikely, but like any great discovery, they’re well worth at least an initial encounter.