Thursday, September 13, 2007

Guilt by Association

It is probably safe to assume that some amount of irony underscores this CD…a compilation of “indie” artists covering “guilty pleasure” pop songs…but the artists understood that to make this work they were going to have to play it straight (smirking through their performances would just make them come off as smug) and that’s what they did.

The net cast here is pretty wide…Paula Abdul (with Luna finding a understated soulful groove in “Straight Up”) to Fall Out Boy (Goat slipping into a grand, heartfelt, mid-tempo reading of “Sugar We’re Going Down”), Blue Oyster Cult (Mike Watt’s beefy spin through “Burning for You”), to High School Musical (Porter Block turns “Breaking Free” into a soaring, credible rock and roll song), the Spice Girls (Jim O’Rourke finding the heart of “Viva Forever” with some great guitar work included in the melodic mix) to System of a Down (Casey Shea’s lush take on “Chop Suey”), Shania Twain (Mark Mulcahy’s sweetly, passionately ragged cover of “From This Moment On”) to Oasis (Devendra Banhart’s dreamy, acoustic version of “Don’t Look Back in Anger”)…but the songs are stripped down, recast, and re-imagined to sometimes very engaging effect (stripped of their pop gloss and over-produced vocals, some of the songs emerge surprisingly poignant in their new incarnations.)

Petra Haden’s glorious, multi-tracked a cappella (including the guitar solos) version of the Journey chestnut “Don’t Stop Believin’”, for example, kicks off the disc with a shimmering burst of invention while Will Oldham (aka “Bonnie Prince Billy”) strips the melodrama away from Mariah Carey’s “Can’t Take That Away” and discovers an affecting song (Geoff Farina pulls off the same cool trick with a cool acoustic take on Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise”.) The Concretes cover Take That's "Back for Good" with great vocals and a tasty horn-driven chorus.

The Woody Jackson Orchestra and Money Mark update “Love’s Theme”, the syrupy instrumental hit from the 70’s by Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra, with a nice 21st Century groove while hanging on to a sweetly nostalgic feel while The Mooney Suzuki attacks Cher’s cheesy (I admit that it’s cheesy while also admitting that I rather like it) “Just Like Jesse James” with fierce relish and comes out with a winner even as it hews close to original arrangement. Superchunk turns “Say My Name” into a snarling, pulsating rocker…something that Destiny’s Child couldn’t have ever imagined that it could be.

If someone is going to cover a well-known song, they should (to coin a cliché) “make it their own”…and that’s exactly what these fine folks do on these “guilty pleasures” to fine effect indeed. Guilt by Association is fun and engaging and what more could you ask from a compilation like this?

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Engine Room Recordings, which released the CD, held a contest for fans to create videos for some of the songs. Below is one made for Petra Haden's version of "Don't Stop Believin'" (other videos available for viewing at the link in the previous sentence.)

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