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I am Sam | soundtrack | review | Beatles | tribute | compilation | Lollipop

I am Sam

by Tim Den

I am Sam is a movie about a mentally-challenged man (played by Sean Penn) who, with the help of a gorgeous lawyer (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), battles for the custody of his son. Throughout the film, Penn's character references Beatles songs as guidelines to living... thus we have this here soundtrack. Okay, I understand the emotional support this soundtrack gives to the plot of the movie... but as an entity all its own, I have a few bones to pick with it. For instance, the songs used are all covers and not the originals. I know, I know: Must've been some "legal" and "copyright" issues... but, shit, yet another collection of Beatles cover songs?

And what's with people thinking they can fuck around with THE BEATLES' arrangements? If you're gonna attempt to cover untouchable classics, at least know not to embellish too much (or, as in The Wallflowers' case, not to leave out crucial notes in the vocal melody, you dolts). Extra arpeggios in "Two of Us" (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn)? Unnecessary vocal vibrato and octave harmony on "Blackbird" (Sarah McLachlan)? Putting a backbeat to "Julia" and totally fucking up the melodies (Chocolate Genius)?

Folks, let's get one thing straight here: The Beatles' songs are timeless not just cuz they're some of the most well-written songs ever, but also cuz every pause, every intonation, every bend of the melody – not to mention mood, ambience, and delivery of the players and vocalists – is crucial to the affect of the songs. Drag one syllable out too long, and all is lost (pay attention, Paul Westerberg and Heather Nova). Play a D7 instead of a D major, and the entire feel is thrown off (Eddie Vedder; whose "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" is actually pretty good otherwise). Having McLachlan quiver at the end of every line in "Blackbird" completely renders the song's original humble feeling meaningless. Ugh.

Others totally missed the boat all together: Grandaddy's '90s-AlterNation take on "Revolution" (in a 4/4 time signature of a complete rape) deserves to be disemboweled by ass trolls, and The Vines' bassist should be shot for jizzing all over "I'm Only Sleeping." And, as much as Nick Cave is a god, his rambling/lost "Let it Be" totally loses the focus of the original. Seriously, people: Too difficult for you to paint within the lines? Then don't fucking cover The Beatles. No one asked you to, thanks.

And I can't get over how almost every artist on this soundtrack overlooked the atmosphere of the originals. "Across the Universe" is meant to be slithered out, not belted, Rufus Wainwright. You're making a lament sound like a Broadway show (and, by the way, how the fuck did you manage to miss an entire chord progression in the verse?). Thankfully, a few got it right. Ben Folds' "Golden Slumbers" fits him like a latex glove (though I do wish he scraped his vocal chords in certain spots like McCartney did in the original), Stereophonics' acoustic version of "Don't Let Me Down" is as desperate/soothing/pleading/comforting as the original, and – the stand out track on this otherwise ignorable collection – Ben Harper's "Strawberry Fields Forever" evokes so much of the original's eerie melancholy, that the hairs on my arm stood straight up. Kudos to Ben for capturing everything from the sorrowful vocal style to the vintage drum sound (not to mention melancholy string arrangements). An absolute lush re-reading, fully-loaded with knee-weakening crooning.

The lesson here? Don't bother tackling the work of gods. Cuz you ain't gonna get it right. Unless you're Ben Folds or Ben Harper. Two more culprits: The Black Crows ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"), Howie Day ("Help!").
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