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Review by Brad Green:
Forget the world cup. You did already? Me too. Especially as this year’s greatest contest wasn’t to be found on the football fields of Japan and South Korea, but on the UK charts. When the long lost Elvis gem A Little Less Conversation emerged from obscurity via the Ocean’s Eleven soundtrack, it threatened to break the tie between Elvis and the Beatles for the most UK number ones (17 a piece). Last month, a Dutch DJ’s remix and a prominent Nike ad (with a well-timed soccer theme) kicked The Pelvis to the pinnacle of British popularity, and broke the long-running deadlock. Like a penalty shoot out, the world turned its head to the I Am Sam soundtrack to see if the Beatles could level the score. 

With the likes of Aimee Mann, Sarah McLachlan, Rufus Wainwright and Sheryl Crow dipping in to the Beatles’ discography a leveler seemed likely. Disappointingly, however, most of these artists take a wade, rather then make a splash. And for the moment The King is alone on the British throne. 

Which is not to suggest this album isn’t successful. Far from it. It does lack an ear-smacking surprise, dug from the bowels of Revolver or the White Album and reinvented to remind us what we’ve missed; but a compilation of Beatles’ covers is quite capable of realising half its potential and still being twice as tasty as most of the other records around. And that’s the scenario we have here.

Too much faithfulness, in fact, holds back the keys to the penthouse. When it comes to covering The Beatles the big decision is whether to aim for a revolution or simply let it be. Their remarkable canon has already been plundered by so many performers that covering Beatle’s tunes has almost become an artform unto itself. 

Most of the artists here have gone the conservative way. McLachlan and Wainwright (who’s fast becoming a profession soundtrack contributor) lend their mellifluous tones to lovely McCartney/Lennon melodies without offering us anything new or outstanding – although we know they’d be capable of it. While Aimee Mann and Michael Penn (brother of Sean, hubby of Aimee), and Neil and Tim (his son) Finn, both present solid versions of the title track, which are similar enough to the original to be notably similar to each other. 

More interesting is Ben Folds’ emotive rendition of McCartney’s gorgeous ninety-second lullaby Golden Slumbers; and Ben Harper’s Strawberry Fields Forever, which is probably the boldest interpretation on the album. In the course of a dense, lengthy arrangement he actually ups the psychedelic factor and it works. Of course the basic material is nothing short of magic; and wonderful as it is, this track is simply too extravagant to be a chart-topping single. 

But don’t despair Fab Four-philes; you can always get by with a little help from statistics. They did notch up an extra seven, solo number ones between them after the Beatles split. And personally, I reckon it’s a dubious honour anyway. Elvis and The Beatles both earned every one of their number ones; but in between, the UK chart has mostly served as a barometer of bad taste.

Published July 25, 2002

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TITLE: I am Sam
ID: WR1019410
New Line Cinema
ARTISTS: Aimee Mann and Michael Penn; Sarah McLachlan; Rufus Wainwright; The Wallflowers; Eddie Vedder; Ben Harper; Sheryl Crow; Ben Folds; The Vines; Stereophonics; The Black Crowes; Chocolate Genius; Heather Nova; Howie Day; Paul Westerberg; Grandaddy; Nick Cave; Neil Finn; Liam Finn

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