V/A | New Tales to Tell: A Tribute to Love and Rockets (Justice)

cd_loverockets.jpgThe real gems on this compilation are many and varied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute albums, as a general rule, have the dubious reputation of being genrally disappointing, largely unappreciated by fans, and at best inclusive of one or two tolerable interpretations of the honoree’s work. There have, of course, been exceptions to the rule (how can I forget the Alternative Tentacles Virus 100 tribute to the Dead Kennedys, or the throng of interesting Pixies tributes that predictably followed their breakup?). In New Tales to Tell: A Tribute to Love and Rockets, I may have found such an exception, and that’s a hard order to fill when the band being covered more or less co-wrote the soundtrack to my high school years and still finds its way into my normal rotation of CDs on a regular basis. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the kickoff track was done by Black Francis, who shares the same distinction in my musical past in his various incarnations.

If you begin listening to these 18 tracks with any sense of stubborn traditionalism to the originals, you probably aren’t going to be too impressed. The argument I come across from other music lovers most often regarding cover songs goes something like this: "If you’re going to cover something, make it as close to the original as you can or it’s disrespectful to the artist." Frankly, that’s bullshit, and thank God for tribute albums like this one, in which the individual bands and artists have taken something meaningful from a revered contemporary and added something meaningful from their own talent to make it unique. For my money, emulation isn’t the highest form of flattery; it’s collaboration.

The real gems on this compilation are many and varied. Black Audio’s version of "No New Tale to Tell" and Dubfire’s take on "I Feel Speed" both successfully inject freshness into two songs that have become standards in my collection, and Monster Magnet’s "Mirror People" had my hands drumming on the steering wheel and my head bobbing down the highway just like the original did so many years ago. Better Than Ezra even pleasantly surprised me with their cover of "So Alive," a song which, in my humble opinion, is very easy to get wrong. And without a doubt, The Stone Foxes’ "Fever" blew my hair back by leaving the dynamics and music of the song pretty much completely alone, but changing up the instrumentation to include a human drummer and some gritty harmonica riffs in place of the keyboard flourishes.

The disappointments, expectedly, are there, too. "The Light" is rendered by A Place to Bury Strangers into a sped-up-a-bit-too-fast and honestly a little overproduced reincarnation in which the vocals are obliterated behind a wall of feedback (see, when Love and Rockets did it, you could still hear the words), and Snowden’s "No Words No More" could well have been a sparse, fuzzy guitar thrown over a practice session of Gregorian monks.

We may as well allow, though, that this is, after all, a tribute album and every track suffers the comparison to the original, but as tribute albums go, it’s worth the listen. My occasional cringing was indeed outweighed in the end by my toe-tapping. B | Jason Neubauer

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