The Hope for Haiti telethon was clearly a noble initiative displaying genuine generosity of spirit by both celebrities and the donating public. This critique is not about the superb efforts by all involved to raise a considerable amount of money - but rather a review of the music performed by the top musicians who donated their time and talent to an urgent cause.
Regrettably the overall impression was one of maudlin karaoke. The song choices - mostly cover versions - were largely unimaginative and the performances weak - simply not good enough for an artist roster of this caliber on prime-time television across dozens of networks. There were a few exceptions, but not many. Here is a run-down of the evening's largely forgettable musical offerings, in order of appearance:
Alicia Keys/Prelude To A Kiss: off-key, lovely piano accompaniment, average song. Simply unacceptable for a dazzling talent like Keys to miss the notes. Instead of repeatedly shrieking the "Angels" refrain, she should have performed the superior Angels by British pop crooner, Robbie Williams.
Coldplay/A Message: strong, appropriate, bouncy. But a performance of their lyrically more relevant and musically more popular, Fix You may have been a better choice (it's definitely a superior song).
Bruce Springsteen/We Shall Overcome: dire, he has become a caricature of himself, truly now the Sly Stallone of music. Unimaginative choice, poorly delivered amounting to mediocre karaoke. Should have had the courage to reprise his timeless USA for Africa album contribution, Trapped.
Stevie Wonder/A Time To Love/Bridge Over Troubled Water: rent-a-voice for charity, he shows up at everything and is overexposed though always well-intentioned. Emotive, but too jerky, poor song selections: Bridge Over Troubled Water was just more sad karaoke. Gospel backing couldn't mask how average this was. Why didn't he simply perform his own loving ode, Love's In Need Of Love Today?
Shakira/I'll Stand By You: strong cover choice of the Pretenders nugget. But Chrissie Hynde's original is far superior.
John Legend/Motherless Child: classy rendition of the evergreen spiritual with imaginative string quartet. One of the evening's best.
Mary J. Blige/Hard Times Come Again No More: dignified, on point, the baby Franklin delivered a strong performance. Mercifully, she didn't over sing.
Taylor Swift/Breathless: creative choice of the Better Than Ezra gem. Slightly tepid beginning, but moved through her performance with confidence. Well-arranged, well-sung, solid.
Christina Aguilera/Lift Me Up: had the courage to debut a new original song. Supreme balladeer, with all her success she remains an underrated singer-songwriter. Impeccable delivery, but as a stand-alone composition, not within a mile of her glorious 2006 hit, Hurt.
Sting/Driven To Tears: the benefit fundraising veteran, classy and arty as ever, offering a lyrically-relevant old Police bouncer. But again, hardly a memorable song or performance. Best lyric of the night: "Too many cameras and not enough food". Too jazzy for prime-time. A lyrically reworked version of one his most poignant and moving songs, They Dance Alone would have proved more evocative and powerful.
Beyoncé with Chris Martin/Halo: she inappropriately wore what looked like $20,000 worth of clothes, while Martin looked suitably homeless. The revised, event-relevant lyrics worked, but once again, hardly an inspired or iconic song. Polished performances by both artists.
Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Kid Rock/Lean On Me: a ridiculously obvious song choice. Strong, workmanlike performances by all three, though the trio chorus again sounded like a singalong at your local pub. A better choice would have been Randy Newman's empathetic lost treasure, I'll Be Home, simply changing the lyric "Remember Baby" to "Remember Haiti".
Madonna/Like A Prayer: excellent song selection, well executed, this was more like it. The evening's best use of gospel backing. One of the few memorable performances. The maturation of Madge.
Justin Timberlake, Matt Morris/Hallelujah: nice to see him on piano, great vocal as one would expect. However, is he not aware that this iconic Leonard Cohen chestnut has been covered by everyone over the past two years (thanks Simon Cowell) and is way overexposed? Extremely unimaginative choice. Newcomer Matt Morris was a welcome choice to share lead vocals and gave it some profound emotion. He was terrific. Again, a better song choice would have been Mat Kearney's equally moving and lyrically appropriate Lifeline (a song which should have been performed by someone/anyone).
Jennifer Hudson/Let It Be: more American Idol karaoke. It's simply not good enough to have yet another superb singer loose on over-singing a song that should only be performed by its originator. Dreadful. The song she should have considered: last year's much-underrated Whitney Houston/R. Kelly ballad, I Look To You - preferably performed by the Houston not the Hudson.
Emeline Michel/Many Rivers To Cross: wonderful to see this superb Haitian singer's supreme talent on prime-time. But again, why such an obvious song selection? What a superb artiste, what a poor choice. Why didn't she perform one of her native songs (Gade Papi or Histoire d'Eau) to introduce a global audience to the best Haitian music has to offer?
Bono, The Edge, Jay-Z, Rihanna/Stranded - Haiti Mon Amour: at last, at least an outstanding original performance. Great rolling instrumentation courtesy of the Edge and the rhythm section, polished top-drawer performances by Jay Z, Rihanna (very relaxed and surprisingly good), well done Bono for showing uncharacteristic restraint. Evocative song written quickly, one of the evening's best. Added an uplifting ray of sunshine amid the mostly depressing repertoire.
Dave Matthews, Neil Young/Alone and Forsaken: appalling choice of song, poorly delivered by two talents who should know better. Other than the song's title/chorus, the rest of the lyrics are irrelevant even as an arty metaphor. Example:
Oh, where has she gone to, oh, where can she be
She may have forsaken some other like me
She promised to honor, to love and obey
Each vow was a plaything that she threw away.
What does this have to do with an earthquake tragedy? Dire.
Wyclef Jean/Rivers of Babylon/Yele: Haiti's greatest musical export was mildly rousing, but musically off-note. A creative mess, uninspiring - and repeatedly mentioning Anderson Cooper's name was puerile and off-subject. It's about the people, not about the Cooper. Ridiculous, amateur junkanoo. To make a real impact, he should have reunited the Fugees (to show solidarity with fellow Haitian, Pras Michel) and performed a reworked version of their cover hit No Woman No Cry. The public has wanted a proper reunion of this trio for many years - and this was a perfect - and missed - opportunity for them to put their differences aside for the greater good.
Overall, a noble gathering of incredible talent whose song selection and performances were mostly uninspired and morose. The lack of a live audience and an inspirational MC deadened an otherwise potentially great evening.