In June 2011, legendary country musician Glen Campbell revealed that he had Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell, famous for songs like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Wichita Lineman”, is a mainstay in country music and has been in the business for over fifty years. Needless to say, the news hit country music HARD. To lose an icon is hard, but sometimes it’s even harder to watch them fade away knowing you can’t do anything about it. The next year, Campbell went on a goodbye tour before one final round of studio sessions. One of the songs recorded in the sessions, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” was used in the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, a heartbreaking and unflinching look at the singer on the farewell tour as he grapples with Alzheimer’s.
I’m saying all this because Adios has to be put in context. It’s the final album from an amazing musician who’s been in the business for over fifty years. Adios is Campbell saying goodbye to the industry and goodbye to the people who’ve supported him over the years.
The songs from Adios were recorded between 2012 and 2013, during Campbell’s last studio sessions. Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis looms large over the album, bringing a tragic light to some of the songs. Lyrics like ‘‘Everybody’s talking / can’t hear a word they’re saying / only the echos of my mind” (from “Everybody’s Talkin”) and “I’ve gotta go now / I guess I’ll see you around” (from “Funny How Time Slips Away,” a duet with Willie Nelson) cut like a knife.
These are all purposefully precise choices for a farewell album and Campbell delivers these lines in a sentimental way, though never too maudlin. He’s accepting his illness with class and dignity. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching is “Arkansas Farmboy,” a beautifully nostalgic song. Campbell pours so much emotion into the chorus, bringing it to new levels. Add in beautiful guitars and violins, and you’ve got a final product that hides it’s amazingly tight and downright beautiful production behind deceptively simple stylings.
Yes, certain songs do sound over-polished. Campbell’s rendition of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the rest of the tracks, due to it’s bizarrely clean feel and oddly jaunty rendition. And yes, this is an album that I would normally deride as playing it safe, as Campbell bringing nothing new to the table. But that’s the point. This is Campbell’s farewell album, of course he isn’t going to bring anything new and different to the table. This is Campbell being peak Glen Campbell, rewarding fans with exactly the sort of sound they’ve come to expect yet giving them something new via the songs he’s chosen for the album: around half are classic 1960s tracks, but tracks that (to the best of my knowledge) Campbell hasn’t come before. And if certain songs sound dated, then that only shows just how much impact Campbell had on the country music industry as a whole.
I’ll admit: I’m not a massive Glen Campbell fan. My experience with him mostly boils down to a ‘Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits’ cd, bought from a truck stop, that got regular rotation for a few years in my parents’ minivan. But even I got chills during the final song, “Adios,” written by Campbell’s longtime collaborator Jimmy Webb. This is a beautifully written song to begin with and Campbell just sells it, taking what could be a far too maudlin song and giving it just the right amount of sincerity and just the right amount of pathos. It’s a perfectly executed good-bye, Campbell going out on his own terms and doing so magnificently. The last ten seconds of the song, where the music drops out and Campbell holds the phrase “adios” a capella before the music sneaks back in, sent chills down my spine. In a Rolling Stone interview, Kim Campbell, Glen Campbell’s wife, said that Campbell “wanted to preserve what magic was left” for the final recordings. At that, he succeeded immensely.