Release Date: Aug 30, 2011
Record label: Surfdog Records
Genre(s): Country, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Country, Country-Pop
No way was the country-pop megastar of "Rhinestone Cowboy" fame going to make a sparse fixin'-to-die record à la Johnny Cash. Billed as Glen Campbell's farewell to music (the 75-year-old singer was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's), Ghost is baroquely arranged drama that echoes his string-swelled Seventies hits. Yet this biographical album, penned by Campbell and some unlikely contributors (including the Replacements' Paul Westerberg), is introspective and often haunted.
Back in 1977, the cynical response to the death of Elvis Presley was “good career move”. Indeed, sales of his products soared after his demise, as it has for many rock stars in his wake. Take a look at the recent boom triggered by the tragic passing of Amy Winehouse. Glen Campbell is still with us, but the semi-morbid publicity surrounding his latest release is geared towards increasing sales and attention to the artist.
Few artists get the luxury of crafting their final album as a conscious farewell, but Glen Campbell isn’t just any artist. Campbell is a titan with a legacy that begins before he started to record solo albums, so if anyone deserves to craft a career-capping final record it is he, even if this opportunity is bittersweet, tainted by the knowledge that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s sometime during its recording. His disease does hang over Ghost on the Canvas, its sadness surfacing on the instrumental interstitials written by Roger Manning, but this album bears none of the ghoulish fetishization of death that haunts Rick Rubin’s latter-day productions of Johnny Cash.
Since he reached his commercial peak almost a decade before I was born, most of my initial exposure to Glen Campbell was through his various tabloid appearances and his conservative political stumping, none of which did much to endear him to me. That he’s spent the better part of the last two decades in semi-retirement, while fellow Country Music Hall of Fame acts like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, and Dolly Parton have all been busy recording some of the best music of their careers, hasn’t really offered many new reasons to revisit Campbell’s catalogue either. Sure, “Galveston” is a classic single for a host of obvious reasons, and Campbell is undeniably a gifted singer and guitarist, but his super-polished brand of pop-country has never resonated with me.
Recently, Glen Campbell received the kind of diagnosis that everyone of a certain age dreads: Alzheimer's. Before the disease grows worse, he decided to record one final album and launch one final tour, and while most celebrity retirements seem suspect (ahem, Jay-Z, Patrick Wolf, Ryan Adams, and on and on), this one really does feel permanent, which is tragic. Campbell has had one of those impossible careers that sound more like the stuff of outrageous fiction than rock biography: An Arkansas native and music prodigy of sorts, he moved to L.A.
Back in the early ’00s, there was a brief and odd resurgence for old country singers. It became the cool thing for legends to release new albums, consisting entirely of rock covers, to try and tap into a new, younger fan base. Johnny Cash, perhaps, did it best by teaming with super producer Rick Rubin on the American Recordings collection. Pat Boone also joined in with a country covers album of heavy metal tunes.
It’s not often that we hear a major artist officially declare the end of a career; usually, they tend to fade away or mount perennial “comebacks”. But at age 75 and with the recent diagnosis of the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, Glen Campbell has decided to say farewell to his five decade-long run with the release of an emotionally satisfying career testimonial, Ghost on the Canvas. This is his second record in a row produced by Julian Raymond, who has attempted to revive Campbell’s career a la Rick Rubin’s contemporary treatment of Johnny Cash with the American Recordings series.
The country legend’s final album, and a fine way to bow out of the business. Martin Aston 2011 Rehabilitating the sound and vision that created a musical legend – let’s call it the Johnny Cash American Recordings model – is now standard practice for artists in their advanced years. The latest recipient is Glen Campbell, whose first ‘renaissance’, 2008 covers album Meet Glen Campbell, was intermittently great, and strangely disconnected (knowing committed Christian Glen was singing The Velvet Underground’s Jesus straight was an especially weird, if compelling, sensation).
The "Rhinestone Cowboy" makes no secret of his incipient Alzheimer's and Ghost as his poignant swan song. Lavish with sentimental tunes befitting his patented countrypolitan appeal and troubled past, its songwriters, including Jakob Dylan ("Nothing but the Whole Wide World"), Paul Westerberg, and Robert Pollard, rise to the occasion of Campbell's final class act. .