Thursday, December 20, 2007

2007: The Year of the Classic Rock Cover Album

This year has seen an uprecedented trend in rock recordings, with the release of no less than five cover albums by classic rock artists. Ann Wilson (Heart), Queensryche, Tesla, Patti Smith, and Brian Ferry have all released cover albums, with Poison recently announcing plans for their own, with release next Spring. The key criterea, in my mind, for evaluating the success of these albums, is the same as for any cover. Is it a lazy copy or a re-interpretation ?

Patti Smith’s album, Twelve, released in April, is clearly from the first category. It is hard to believe that ‘Punk’s Poet Laureat’ could create such a dreadfully boring album, failing to inspire, even in her rendition of R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts’. The version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is phenomenal in it’s betrayal of the original song, sounding more like the bloke who played it at our local pub last week, than one of the most influential women in the history of rock.

Bryan Ferry’s album, Dylanesque, released in March this year, is far more adventurous. It’s an enourmous risk to record an album made exclusively of Dylan covers, given that this has been done an unbelievable 20, 210 times to date ( Ferry, however, pulls off a masterpiece, delving into the heart of each song, delivering in his normal classy way, but providing each with an unexpected emotional punch.

Queenryche and Ann Wilson’s albums provide a mixed bag, one that supports the art of MP3 cherry picking, with complete albums only for adoring fans. Queensryche’s album, Take Cover, was only released on November 13 and takes the band in very unexpected directions. ‘For the Love of Money’ by the O’Jays ? ‘Synchonicity II’ by the Police ? What were they thinking. The idea of this album, alone, is a revelation. It fulfils my belief that only liking one genre is ok when your adolescent, but not a great sign of maturiy in an adult. It’s wonderful that a band with as much a cult following as Queensyche can show what they really like, without fear. It also fulfils the reinterpretation criterea, with the highlights being, For What It’s Worth (Buffallo Sringfield) and Heaven on Their Minds (Jesus Christ Superstar). The gem on Ann Wilson’s album must be The Immigrant Song. Given her status as a Robert Plant wannabe, you would expect hard-boiled rock. What you get is a folk treatment, that hightens the fury of the song and sets her off as one of the best female vocalists of rock.

What to say, then, of the value of this trend in rock ? A cynical view is that there is a bandwagon effect, driven by record companies who see that they are onto a good thing. My own view is that this may be a sign that time is creating a set of standards, similar to Jazz or ther Blues. Most of the Jazz and Blues standards of today were written almost eighty years ago. Perhaps the songs represented in these cover albums will also stand the test of time.

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