There are plenty of music critics out there who continue to hail The Who Sell Out as a brilliant, if somewhat incomplete, collection of psychedelic pop. I'm not one of them. Indeed, the Who's 1967 satire of commercial radio jingles is grating to my ears.
So I'm pleasantly surprised to report that Petra Haden's a cappella reproduction of the entirety of The Who Sell Out is a marvel. Armed with just her beautiful voice and an 8-track cassette recorder courtesy of alt-rock bassist Mike Watt, Haden (of That Dog fame, as well as the daughter of jazz bassist Charlie Haden and brother of Spain singer/bassist Josh Haden) purifies the Who's original concept of mass-media satire by stepping outside of that realm altogether. The result is a beautifully surreal world within a larger, uglier, more-compromised one. Her interpretation is childlike in its ambition yet epic in execution, her voice providing jeweled layers of sound. "Armenia City in the Sky" simply soars, the swerving harmonies and percussive notes spinning like propeller blades.
Haden teases out all the doo-wop elements of "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand," creating something on par with the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love." Somehow she mimics the droning and chiming guitar bits in "I Can See for Miles," evoking a Benedictine monk trapped in a power-pop jukebox. And "Sunrise," once an acoustic-guitar-and-vocal showcase for Who guitarist Pete Townshend, now radiates with weird energy.
It's heresy, I'm sure, to claim that this re-working of a classic-rock milestone is better than the real thing, but you'll have to deal with it--and buy it as soon as possible.