Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lame Tribute Albums, All-Stars, Links, Etc.

Hey all, i'm back after a nearly two week hiatus. Let me get right back into it:

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Lame Tribute Albums

Yesterday, i was giddy as a school boy. I was downloading (legally, via the excellent emusic.com) a new tribute album to those masters of intellectual, silly indie pop, They Might Be Giants, with tracks by Frank Black, The Wrens, Self, etc. TMBG's unique brand of music lends itself perfectly to cover versions, as anyone who tries to do a straight cover will sound ridiculous, so it forces you to rethink the tune before recording. Or, so i thought...

Besides the Wrens turning "They'll Need a Crane" into a dirge and Frank Black turning "Road Movie To Berlin" into a western singalong, most of the people here seem to be content just playing the thing as if Flansy and Linnell were on either side of them. The other popular idea is to remove all energy and limp dick your way through the track. Which begs the question, why bother?

If you want to hear the definitive version of "Ana Ng," i don't think anyone would even think to reach for a cover - a song so bizarre, rhythmic and funny could only be done properly by the Giants. But a cover version sounds intriguing - how would someone else tackle this idiosyncratic piece of pop music? Ira Glass, host of NPR's superb This American Life, once said of TMBG (and i'm paraphrasing here) that he was upset that John and John were in the band, because their asthetic is so unique that if those two guys were to stumble on the band themselves, they'd love it! It's sad to Glass that they have to make that music in order to hear it. I'm not as well spoken as Ira is, but i think that same point is why this tribute album, and many similar tribute albums, fail: If you want to sound like TMBG, then step aside from the tribute.

This brings me back to the Gus Van Sant directed, Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn and William H. Macy staring remake of Psycho from the 90s. This was, at best, an idea that should've been left to stoners everywhere: "Dude, why don't we, check this out, film a remake, hear me out, of Psycho, but instead of changing anything, do it shot for shot of the original! Dude! Pass the j..." Why would anyone think that a new version of Psycho that is, pretty much, the exact same thing, be better, as good, or even close to the original?

This was my exact thought at hearing This Radiant Boy covered the classic "Don't Let Start," which coincidentally has one of the best music videos ever made (as does "Ana Ng" for the record). It sounds like a shitty garage band who learned the song earlier in the day running through the song for the 4th or 5th time, but trying to keep as close to the original arrangement as possible. Now, i could see the charm in doing a rough and tumble, balls to the wall, garage cover of this song, but this is so lame that it practically screams high school talent show.

Even the good (still not great though, sorry FB/Wrens, two of my favorite artists) covers on this comp sound rushed, which is also not unusual for the tribute album genre. Another near worthless tribute album, This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul, sounded like each band had about 3 hours to learn, arrange and record each cover. That album had a few decent covers (like the Reggae-ish "Michelle" by Ben Harper, Sufjan Stevens' totally out of left-field, nothing but lyrics remainging the same "What Goes On," the Fiery Furnances' Dylanish "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" and Yonder Mountain String Band's "Think For Yourself," even if the latter has a totally unnecessary distorted electric guitar in the background), but else erything felt like it was either going for a note for note remake (see the Donnas inept "Drive My Car" or the usually fun Ben Kweller's limp "Wait") or rushed (the energetic Ted Leo's "I'm Looking Through You" or Low's "Nowhere Man"). Why is it out of the question to call a band in March and say "Hey guys, we're doing a Beatles tribute and we need a track by October, can you do something between now and then? The feeling i get is that the fine folks who put out these albums, especially the TMBG one, said "Shit, we have 7 days til pressing. This Raiant Boy, can you do a quick "Don't Let Start?" Thanks, we owe you."

There are cover songs that have been nearly as good, or better than the original (very few - Mono Puff's "Oddball," Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" and the aforementioned They Might Be Giants' "New York Ciy"), but usually the covers are well though out, perhaps performed live for a period of time before recording, or done with enough joy and enthusiasm (like the "Oddball" cover) that it gives the track a new spin - which is why the 5 tracks i mentioned earlier work on the Rubber Soul tribute. But all Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants showed me was how much i love those two Brooklynites.

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Damn the Natinal League for blowing the lead in the 77th All Star Game last night. I'm sick of all this false AL pride. The NL is where the more exciting, pure brand of baseball is played. Period, end of story.

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Two great new Popmatters artciles, here and here. I've long since been trying to master incorporating country-ish stuff into mixes, but fear that people will mistake me for a republican. I'm also interested in other one-man, or near one-man albums that they've forgotten. I list the self titled Foo Fighters album in that list for sure, as well as Petra Haden's Imaginaryland. Am i forgetting any?

Oh, and i should've pimped this long ago, but Simon's You Can Call Me Betty has had music samples from every nation in the World Cup over the past month or so. Many of the links may be dead, but there is some great info there. Cheers Simon.

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More tomorrow...

6 Comments:

At 11:33 AM, Blogger Oh Simone said...

I'm investigating more permanent links, my man. Until then, I'm hoping to follow up the first YCCMB podcast with, wait for it, the second YCCMB podcast, with some of the best music of the series on.

 
At 12:32 PM, Anonymous speedy mike said...

I love that PopMatters gave props to Macca. I'm really getting into his solo material lately. Oh and Brian, I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work and you might get a gold star, robot boy!

 
At 12:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best tribute album ever is clearly "The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young" (featuring pixies, flaming lips, nick cave, sonic youth, dinosaur, etc), but I still think the TMBG tribute is decent. You didn't like The Long Winters' take on "Pet Name"? You're crazy! The original is insufferable. The Long Winters version rocks! Same goes for David Miller, Charles Douglas, and Hotel Lights. Their versions are TONS better than the pallid, dinky synth-drenched originals. I'd rather listen to Hello Radio than any TMBG album post-"Flood"....

 
At 11:08 AM, Blogger BVS said...

To me, if you're not a fan of TMBG then don't buy a tribute album. Especially in the days of iTues/eMusic - just get the tracks of the bands you like. So when you looked at the tracklisting and saw many post- Flood tracks chosen, you should've looked to spend your hard earned money elsewhere. I stand behind my charges that this album feels hastily produced and poorly thought out on the part of most of the participants. But thanks for stopping by and discussing.

 
At 6:04 AM, Blogger jediroller said...

Rob Crow makes one-man albums in his sleep. Check out his solo work (obviously), but also Goblin Cock, a mock (?) Sabbath-esque metal band. He recorded the album on his own and hired musicians to tour with. On his recent album under the name The Ladies he played all instruments except drums, which were left to Hella's Zach Hill.

Mike Patton is another fine example.

Kristin Hersh played all instruments on her 2001 album "Sunny Border Blue" save for drums on one track (played by engineer Steve Rizzo).

 
At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i didn't buy a copy of the TMBG tribute album because I am on it and my track is the best song and I am god!!!!!!!!!!

 

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