It’s a strange moment in the music world when the trends shift from big-time hip-hop and pop releases to classical pop. Two recent releases from artists as different as night and day have arrived to show us that the exact same concept can be tackled in completely different ways while finding similar ways of both hitting and missing the mark. And while Sting’s Symphonicities had song selection strong enough to make it a recommended listen, young violin virtuoso David Garrett struggles more with finding his identity, and that makes his new album Rock Symphonies harder to love.
Garrett, the self-proclaimed “David Beckham of the classical scene” (who AMG dubbed more appropriately as “the Eddie Van Halen of bowed instruments”) has made a relatively successful crossover into the U.S. market with his ridiculously over-the-top cheesy renditions of popular songs, taken from their natural pop landscape and placed in the world of “classical” by arranging them with a symphonic bent and then ramping the energy level up to 11.
It worked like a charm on his reworking of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” which came out prior to Jackson’s death, and his album Rock Symphonies continues in the same vein. Garrett earns his listeners with the album’s opener, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which does its damndest to pay respect to Cobain by showing just how much impact that song can have in any setting. The album also includes a beautifully rendered cover of “Live and Let Die” which is well worth a purchase on its own.
But he gives too much of a not-so-great thing when he piles on “November Rain,” “Walk This Way” and “80s Anthem,” giving us less variety than one might expect. Avoid “The 5th” like the plague though, another attempt to make Beethoven rock when disco already murdered the concept in the ’70s. And a cover of “Master of Puppets” by Metallica just showcases how much better that song was handled on the band’s own S&M.
It’s a fine line Garrett risks walking, but you never know if he might wind up inspiring a new generation to want to rock out with instruments they may never have considered to be “fun.” What we’ve got on Rock Symphonies are a few solid songs that show his amazing abilities as an expert of his instrument, while the rest flounders, sputters and begs for a stronger sense of musical direction. Maybe he’ll find that on the next album out.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.