The Lemonheads songwriter and former Smudge frontman Tom Morgan has stripped things right down on his latest solo album Orange Syringe to emphasise the deeply personal storytelling nature of his songwriting. It is Morgan’s harshly real lyricism that stands out and it’s often pitted against a dark and brooding sound; usually led by acoustic and slide guitars.
The listener is first plummeted into this introspective world on opener One True Love, then again on track two Best Thing For Baby, which has a boozy break-up feel to it. However, the melancholia and slow-hand strum of this style usually has enough of a hook to it to draw you in. Later on, Awkward Living sounds similarly downtrodden but comes out fighting and actually glides out quite optimistically on an organ sound.
The Australian singer first rose to prominence in the 1990s with grunge pop outfit Smudge and later as writer for The Lemonheads, penning hits such as It’s A Shame About Ray. It is no surprise when the pace picks up that the sound of this era that comes to the fore. A notable comparison could be Pavement or perhaps some of Grandaddy’s poppier moments. Both Taste For Blood and Fatherland have a rockier and more upbeat – even playful – feel.
I’ll provide the wine is again a bit jauntier, seeing as Morgan is documenting his family history while buying a bottle of wine, yet he hasn’t abandoned his dark humour completely. Virtuoso too is another low-fi rocker, penned around the refrain “Have a little patience, in a week it’s going to be concrete”. Jungle Boy offers up something unique in the context; a short blast built on an edgy, grunge riff.
Penultimate number Mess With The Bull has an intricate acoustic riff and brings to mind Elliot Smith. Musically it switches between minor and major chordswhilst lyrically the switch is between humour and something more sinister;something that suggests dark clouds are on the horizon. It is a trait that could define the album.
Closer Final Final The One The One leaves things with a heavy heart, while electric guitar and organ providing just a bit of life. Perhaps Morgan’s voice is a major factor behind such a melancholic mood but Orange Syringe is at times a struggle, although this is unlikely to put off fans of his work who will be well aware of Morgan’s style and its undoubted charm. In the right time and place its disarmingly open lyrics are impressive and ultimately it becomes an enjoyable listen for those new to his work.
As music journalists we work to a strict set of standards, setting ourselves above the trappings of the music business as we strive to uncover the truth with honour at every turn.
Having said that we’ll pretty much do anything for some chocolate. The PR people at Fire Records have clearly recognised our cocoa based Achilles heel and, in promoting the forthcoming limited edition 7” release of the Lemonheads’ 1989 classic Mallo Cup, have decided to include a couple of real life Mallo Cups – it’s a nice chocolate tea cake kind of thing.
As huge Lemonheads fans we’d have probably promoted the single anyway, but the chocolate certainly helps.
The single is being released on 26 November ahead of a string of reissues by Fire Records of the Lemonheads first three albums: Hate Your Friends (1987), Creator (1988) and the album that first featured Mallo Cup, Lick (1989).
All three are reissued early next year. Also in the pipeline is a new Lemonheads album that reunites Evan Dando with the band’s original co-writer Ben Deily. This new release will be produced by Ryan Adams.
Also featuring on the single of Mallo Cup is a live radio version of the tack recorded for VPRO in Holland.
I got a warm feeling when I first listened to Lemonheads Hotel Sessions. Hearing a spritely, 25-year-old, Evan Dando playing acoustic tracks, which would later appear on the album Come On Feel The Lemonheads, not only evoked feelings of nostalgia for the music but also for my own youth. Memories of crowdsurfing at Glastonbury festival 1994 in the warm, June sun to Down About It came flooding back. Ditching college for impromptu road trips where these songs would crop up on mixtapes that used to take me hours to make. Smoking sticky black hash with my friend Robert in my bedsit while he worked out the chords to (cringe!) My Drug Buddy on his acoustic guitar. You get the idea…
Hotel Sessions was recorded for $53, that’s $50 for the Walkman it was recorded on and $3 for the tape inside. By the sound of it, no expense has been spent on the mastering either. These songs would be lost on an old fashion mixtape or modern day i-Tunes playlist, almost too quiet to hear. It is about as lo-fi as you can get. Just one man, at the height of his musical career, in a hotel room in Sydney playing songs into a Walkman, complete with birds singing outside, traffic noise and that lovely background hiss that only a cheap tape recorder can create.
Hotel Sessions was originally recorded for the Lemonhead’s Australian agent at the time, Stephen Pavlovic, so it does have a promotional feel to it. It’s basically plugging the album Come On Feel The Lemonheads and it would be more at home as a bonus disc on an album re-issue rather than as a release in its own right. That said, this is still a nice piece of musical memorabilia that most fans will lap up.
I met Evan Dando recently after a low key Lemonheads gig in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He approached me in the men’s toilet of all places and thanked me for coming out to see the show. We later got talking outside the venue and my girlfriend and I ended up joining him and the support band back at their hotel for drinks. We drank until the early hours and he played us some of his favorite songs on his acoustic guitar – Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, Dinosaur Jr, Cat Stevens, Hank Williams, as well as a couple of new songs he was in the process of writing.
After over 20 years of playing and even at 4am on a Sunday morning he seemed in his element, enthusiastically clutching his guitar and taking requests like a one-man acoustic jukebox and sharing anecdotes, like the time he visited Keith Richards at Redlands and sat at the same piano that Gram Parsons once played.
I sometimes worry about the future of my old favorite bands. Hardly any are still together and the ones that are jump from small record label to even smaller record label trying to keep afloat. Artists like Evan Dando give me hope though. I’ve heard nothing but good things from friends who’ve attended the recent, sold out It’s a Shame About Ray shows and seeing his enthusiasm and genuine love for music in person has made me realise that he is unlikely to ever retire.
The Lemonheads Hotel Sessions may be a flimsy release but it shows that you don’t need big record company dollars to get your music out there. It is also comforting to know that as long as there are recording devices, however cheap, and people to listen Evan Dando will continue to make music.
A recent concert had a star studded band, including Dave Grohl, backing Bob Mould in a celebration of the music of Hüsker Dü. On Twitter Matt Stevens questioned how Grant Hart might feel about this event, and it got me thinking about how some significant members of bands can get forgotten as we celebrate the legacies of others.
Hüsker Dü (Grant hart pictured centre)
There is no denying that Grant Hart was a big part of the Hüsker Dü sound, with his distinctive drumming as well as writing and singing many of the bands best songs. Mould would probably get more tracks on a best of collection but some of their finest moments, especially on their masterpiece Zen Arcade, come from the pen of the singing drummer. And yet it seems pretty unlikely that a star studded cast is lining up to play a similar concert to celebrate the music of Hüsker Dü with Hart.
Post-Hüsker Dü things have been kinder to Mould and his musical output has been better received, especially his debut album as Sugar, Copper Blue. However, take a listen to Hart’s career retrospective Oeuvrevue and you’ll hear plenty of excellent songs that have been largely overlooked, and this is a compilation that ignores his best singles ‘2541’ and ‘Admiral of the Sea’, one of the standout tracks from Hart’s post-Hüsker Du band Nova Mob. For me a celebration of Hüsker Dü would have Hart involved as well as moustachioed bass player Greg Norton who still plays in bands when he isn’t running restaurants.
The Lemonheads (Ben Deily 2nd from right)
Despite not getting the respect I think he deserves Grant Hart is hardly forgotten, something you can’t say about former Lemonhead Ben Deily. When I first heard the Lemonheads they were a band with two front-men, Deilly and Evan Dando. Each contributed songs, guitar, vocals (and often bass and drums) to the band’s first three albums Hate Your Friends, Creator and Lick. I loved Dando’s songs, and he had the sweeter voice, but Deily was an excellent songwriter and the balance between the different song writing styles was what made the albums so enjoyable. After Deilly left the next Lemonheads album, Lovey, sounded a little flat and was a bit of a disappointment.
It is true that It’s A Shame About Ray is a brilliant record, close to faultless from start to finish, but I find it hard to see it as a Lemonheads record with only Dando present from the original line-up. For me the magic of many bands is the collection of component parts as much as it is the skills of individuals.
It is pretty common for the songwriters and singers of bands to forget the importance of their other band members, and the crucial part they have to play in creating a band’s sound and identity. Morrissey and Paul Weller have both been guilty of downplaying the importance of their respective rhythm sections and arrogantly assuming it was their individual genius that lead to their success. They must both know that if they reformed The Smiths and The Jam they would sell more tickets and sell more records than they ever will as solo artists.
Their is something about the magical make-up of a great band that fans understand in a way that band members often forget. Blur were lost when Graham Coxon left, REM never really recovered from the loss of Bill Berry and I can never warm to The Undertones or the Stranglers with their substitute singers.
The tension, personality and style that a band produces is a magic that can’t be replicated with musical talent alone. Take the career of Stephen Malkmus for example. His latest band the Jicks are clearly a better band technically than Pavement,and Malknus is still writing great songs, but I’ll never be as excited about seeing him play live with the Jicks as I was when I saw the reformed Pavement. I have mixed feelings about bands reforming, it can often destroy the old magic, but when it does happen it is often a success just because people want to see something back that they had lost.
The Clash were a great band, and had a gang identity like no other, but the writing was on the wall when they released Combat Rock. Look at the video for ‘Rock The Casbah’, Topper Headon replaced on drums by Terry Chimes despite having written some of the music for the song (and playing bass, drums and piano on the record). His drug problems had forced the band to replace him, but seeing the gang broken up in this way was disappointing. Although not as disappointing as the risible Clash mark 2 featured on Cut The Crap, a sad way for a once great band to bow out.
Some of music’s most changeable acts seem to survive despite rotating line-ups. Guided By Voices and The Fall had such unstable line-ups from day one that it didn’t seem so important when band members changed. Even so it is notable how much attention has been devoted to the GBV “classic line-up” in a year when Bob Pollard’s ‘Boston Spaceships’ knocked out one of the albums ofn his career to little fanfare. And you can only imagine the rise in ticket sales if The Fall announced a tour with the same line-up that recorded Hex Education Hour.
Nostalgia is a dangerous thing in music, and can get in the way of new acts breaking through, something so important to keeping the music industry alive. But the singers and song writers from those new acts want to remember that the magic of the band is an important thing before they decide to sack their band members or go solo.
After hearing a brief clip of ageing rock dinosaurs Metallica and Lou Reed’s album it got us thinking about some of the best and worst collaborations in music.
Lou Reed and Metallica
Sometimes giants of rock can get together with startlingly good results, other times these musical link ups end up being complete tosh.
Among our list of terrible partnerships we’ve got a former glamour model and an iconic heavy metal act, a country music great’s flirtation with house music and the most absurd take on Mozart you are ever likely to hear.
Among our best of collection we have one of the best indie dance crossovers of all time and a transatlantic tribute to one of the great pioneers of US music.
Top Five Terrible Collaborations In Music
5. Jack White and the Insane Clown Posse
Jack White and Insane Clown Posse cover Mozart. What on earth can go right? This mess is as bad as you’d expect. I think both ICP and Jack White thought it’d be funny, but as Tomservo3 who posted it on Youtube says “it was fun to listen to the first few times, but listening to it again it’s just getting boring.”
4. Tammy Wynette and KLF
There’s something chilling about Tammy Wynette singing lines such as “they’re justified and they’re ancient” alongside this house revamp by KLF of their track Justified& Ancient. Wynette puts on a good front and her pay cheque must have been nice as this turned out to be a mega hit, but deep down she must have been wondering what the hell she was doing there. The track, renamed Justified and Ancient (Stand by The Jams), is a terrifying mash up of styles and a welcome entry into our terrible collaborations list. But hey, it reached number one in 18 countries, so what do we know anyway?
3. Sam Fox and Hawkwind
For those of you who didn’t have to grow up in the UK and much of Europe in the 1980s Sam Fox has probably passed you by. The former glamour model found unlikely fame as a kind of soft rock singer across Europe as her modelling career wavered. Along the way she teamed up with metal dinosaurs Hawkwind for a homelessness charity version of the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. While I applaud their sentiments the only way this link up was ever going to earn money was if music fans paid them to stop doing it.
2. Metallica and Lou Reed
These giant craggy dinosaurs of rock met at a rock and roll hall of fame event in 2009 and hit it off as they performed a terrible, squealing guitar version of Sweet Jane together. Two years on and they have an album out called Lulu “inspired by German expressionist writer Frank Wedekind’s plays Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box, which tell the story of a young abused dancer’s life and relationships”, says their website. This is every bit as dire as you can imagine, with the end result essentially Lou Reed talking inanely over squealing guitars.
1. Lemonheads and Kate Moss – Dirty Robot
We got a bit of a ticking off a while back from Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando’s mum for suggesting that his 2009 album of covers Varshons was terrible. For us this version of Dutch duo Arling & Cameron’s Dirty Robot, improbably featuring model Kate Moss on vocals, was an all time career low for Dando. Nevertheless Evan’s mum raved about Moss’s efforts. We’ve revisited it and sadly have to confirm it’s still terrible. “I don’t care for your bleeps and bloops. Go away, why don’t you just shut up” sings Kate on this track. Couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
Top Five Excellent Collaborations In Music.
5. Morrissey and Siouxsie Sioux
Interlude, originally recorded by Timi Yuro in 1968 was among a number of covers presented by Morrissey to Siouxsie for a possible collaboration. They agreed this fitted their styles perfectly and the two got on famously during the recording. But divas that they are, they soon fell out and even refused to film a video together. EMI finally released this winter track improbably in the summer of 1994. It still reached number number 25 in the UK singles charts. Great stuff from two of the most iconic figures in UK music.
4. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and PJ Harvey – Henry Lee
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 1996 album Murder Ballads is packed with excellent collaborations, with Kylie Minogue and Shane McGowan among those excelling across these epic crime tales. For us though its PJ Harvey’s duet with Cave on the traditional Henry Lee that is the standout track. They sing this like they really mean it, with their performances oozing emotion throughout.
3.Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul – Fallin’.
1993’s Judgement Night was a film soundtrack with a twist. Every track was a collobaration between a hip-hop artist and a rock act. Somehow Teenage Fanclub found there way into the project and their collaboration Fallin’ with De La Soul is the best of the bunch. Laid back, summery, this will take anyone of a certain age right back to the mid 1990s.
2. Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Narrowly, and I mean very narrowly this missed out on top spot. MacColl and Pogue’s frontman Shane MacGowan’s voices are wondrous for this love song that ended up a Christmas hit in 1987 and for many years to come. There’s an added poignancy as the years roll by due to McColl’s untimely death in 2000. This is as perfect as a duet can be.
1. Wilco and Billy Bragg
Wilco and Billy Bragg’s two volume collaboration to add music to Woody Guthrie’s lyrics has the edge over all the others for the sheer effort and love involved in the project. They also ended up creating some of the best songs of either of their careers including California Stars and one of our Top Ten Tracks About Being A Parent Hoodoo Voodoo.
by Joe Lepper, with ideas from Nic Newman, Barnaby Salton and Dorian Rogers
So here it is. After two months of releasing this list in stages we’ve finally arrived at our Top 10 indie and alternative albums. Hope you enjoy this final instalment. Feel free to browse through the rest of the top 100 here and leave a comment about some of your favourites.
10. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
This debut by The Stone Roses is an old fashioned album, full of 1960s influences. This is perhaps unsurprising given it was produced by John Leckie, whose previous efforts include two albums by XTC’s psychedelic alter egos Dukes of Stratosphear. Yet in 1989 when it was released it sounded like the most exciting and different album for years. Decades on and it’s lost none of its energy and is arguably the best album to emerge from the so called ‘baggy’ scene of late 1980s Manchester. Highlights include the indie-dancebility of final track ‘I Am The Resurrection’, ‘Waterfall ‘and its backwards companion piece ‘Don’t Stop’, and ‘She Bangs the Drum’. In an interview with Quietus Leckie, who is the most name checked producer in our Top 100, explains that the album’s success was down to the band’s confidence and open minded approach to making music. “They seemed to have had experience, they were very well rehearsed and they wanted to try lots of things. But they weren’t frightened,” says Leckie.
9. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
After an underwhelming debut with 1995’s AM Jeff Tweedy’s post-Uncle Tupelo band have released a string of brilliant records from 1996’s Being There through to 2009’s Wilco (The Album). Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the album that demonstrates all that is good about America’s best rock n roll band. Recorded with a line-up that featured the late Jay Bennett, the multi-instrumentalist who would leave the band prior to the albums release (tensions during the recording are brilliantly documented in Sam Jones’ film ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’). The album earned the band the tag of the alt-country Radiohead due to the more experimental production techniques and sounds used by producer Jim O’Rourke. The albums reputation as being challenging is more down to the record labels reaction (and refusal to release it) than it is to the songs themselves. ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ has a weird feel and an erratic beat and ‘Radio Cure’ has an uncomfortable starkness but most of the record is very accessible and features some of the bands best realised songs. ‘Kamera’, ‘War On War’, ‘I’m The Man That Loves You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ are all great catchy tunes that sit comfortably with the more cerebral tracks.
8. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand
Bee Thousand, originally released in 1994, represented a turning point for Robert Pollard’s Guided By Voices. It was intended as the band’s swansong due to the lack of attention and money their previous five albums had garnered. The album was recorded in various basements, rather than the studio, and was primarily the work of Pollard and Tobin Sprout (with various members of the “classic line-up” pitching in). The songs were recorded in just a few takes on to simple 4-track equipment and the rough and ready sound is one of the album’s charms. Guided By Voices albums from this time are an acquired taste, with half formed song snippets sitting alongside rough diamond pop classics like ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’. However, this is all part of the magic formula that makes Bee Thousand so special. There are no songwriters out there like Robert Pollard, no bands like Guided By Voices and no albums like Bee Thousand – this is a pretty special record.
7. The B-52s- The B-52s
Two years after performing their first gig at a Valentine’s Day party in 1977 in their hometown of Georgia, Athens, the B-52s self titled debut hit the stores. It was a sleeper hit in 1979 reaching 59 in the US Billboard 200 but has since been widely recognised as one of the best alternative albums of all time. Blending new wave, punk, 1950’s sci-fi kitsch and Duane Eddy style guitar playing the tracks have a strange timeless feel. Above all they are fun. There’s some silly stuff like ‘Rock Lobster’, but tracks like ‘Hero Worship’ and ‘Dance This Mess Around’ are serious, emotional stuff and showcase the powerful vocal talents of singer Cindy Wilson. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.
6. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
Sufjan Stevens probably regrets his claim that he would release an album for every American state, a feat that would be difficult to achieve and probably not an enjoyable or ultimately successful task. Illinois is his second and, thus far, last in the series. Nobody likes a show-off but it is hard to resent Steven’s ability to play every instrument under the sun when he produces music as wonderful as this in the process. The album covers a sprawling 22 eccentrically titled tracks ranging from the soft and sombre (‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’) to the exuberant and celebratory (‘Come on! Feel the Illinoise!: Pt. 1: The World’s Columbian Exposition’). The album tells an expansive story about the people, places and history of the state and listening to the album is like being taken on an exciting road trip. The brilliant ‘Chicago’ has been used on many a soundtrack, but for me the desert island pick from the album is ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ a song so sad and beautifully played that it made it to number 1 in our Top 10 Tearjerkers chart.
5. Lemonheads – Shame About Ray
Shame About Ray from 1992 is a masterclass in making two to three minute pop songs. Across its tight-as-you-like 12 tracks (bumped to 13 on reissues to include their excellent cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’) each is perfect indie pop. An album you can listen to from start to finish can be rare thing, but an album with 12 (13) potential singles that still retains an alternative edge is worthy of a Top Ten place in anyone’s indie and alternative books. The title track is an undoubted highlight, but each has its own merit, from the hooky ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ to the cover of ‘Frank Mills’, from the film and stage play Hair. We’ve been listening to this a lot in preparing for this list and are staggered each time at the energy and consistency of this fifth album from the band
4. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
When Gordon Gano, Victor DeLorenzo and Brian Ritchie took their busking trio intro the studio to record their debut album it is unlikely that they could have realised what an iconic record they were producing. Their acoustic blend of Lou Reed, the Modern Lovers and punk crackles with youthful angst and pent up anger over the tens songs here. ‘Blister In The Sun’ must be the most shamelessly ripped off tune in advertising and bursts the album into life, and ‘Add It Up’ stands as an indie disco classic due to the stark dropping of the f-bomb early on in the track. The album has more subtle moments and album closer ‘Good Feeling’ is sad, simple and honest. The band would release more good songs throughout their career but they could never quite match up to a debut as perfect as this one. The 20th anniversary reissue is a lovely package with demos, early singles and a live concert on the second disc.
3. XTC – Drums and Wires
Following the departure of keyboardist Barry Andrews in 1978 XTC opted for guitarist and fellow Swindon resident Dave Gregory to replace him. It turned into the making of the band, transforming XTC from a quirky, tight new wave outfit to a bonafide great English rock and pop act. Drums and Wires from 1979 was the first album to feature Gregory and his 1960s influenced electric guitar style as well as a new bigger drums sound, hence the title. It also gave the band far greater chart prominence through singles such as ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ , while losing none of their creativity. Tracks such as ‘Complicated Game’ and Roads Girdle the Globe’ are among the most inventive you will hear in this Top 100. Amazing what a band can achieve with some drums and a bunch of wires. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.
2. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
Stephin Merritt originally conceived this album as being 100 Love Songs before scaling back the idea out of practicality as well as adopting the rather appropriately more salacious number of tracks. Released as triple album, each disc containing 23 songs, it was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Each track deals with a different aspect of love and relationships and the album covers a wide range of styles from piano ballads to synth-pop to jazz to noise and beyond. Merritt’s wry gay new Yorker personality could overwhelm you over so many tracks and he wisely uses a team of vocalists (two male, two female) to record a selection of the songs. This adds depth to the record but also a more universal feel; relationships are kept unclear so that as a listener you can’t tell if the protagonist is singing to another man or woman. The result is that songs like the sprightly ‘I Need A New Heart’, the downbeat ‘I Don’t Believe In The Sun’ or the vicious ‘Yeah, Oh Yeah’ can speak to anyone.
1.The Clash – London Calling
Tommy Tomkins excellent book on London Calling sums up the album perfectly as being about ” roots, with a sense of place.” For the band the roots were not just in London, but across the globe, especially through singer Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simenon’s love of Caribbean and US culture. The range of styles on London Calling from punk to rock to blues to reggae showed The Clash to be arguably the most mature and musical act to emerge from the UK punk scene. This double album has gone on to receive widespread critical acclaim and we are delighted to add our voices to that. From the pounding bass line of the title track, heartfelt lyrics of ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ and pop savvyness of ‘Train in Vain’ London Calling still thrills us decades after its 1979 release. Read our full review of London Calling here.
In amongst the dross of X-Factor and American Idol the great art of the cover version is being lost.
Almost every note of ‘Flying Without Wings’ and high-pitched squawk of ‘I Will Always Love You’ by the show’s vacuous contestants is another nail in the coffin of the once noble cover version.
That ends right here, right now, as Neon Filler honours those in the indie, alternative music world who’ve not only delivered a great version of a classic but have made it there own.
1. Devo – Satisfaction
In many ways the perfect cover, a radically different version of a legendary song that is a classic in its own right. All jerky rhythms and fuzzed up guitar it takes the swagger of the Rolling Stones original and transfers that to an edgy, nervous and anxious look at the song. Frantic, frenetic and awkward, this is a definitive new-wave assault on a 60s classic.
Available on Q. Are We Not Men? A. We are Devo
2. Ben Folds – Bitches Ain’t Shit
Fans of swearing would be hard pressed not love Ben Folds version of Dr Dre’s ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’. With tongue firmly in his white, middle class cheek he offers an irrepressible take on this hip-hop classic. This is Folds at his sarcastic best paying tribute to the song and mocking its offensive, sexist, gangster loving bravado all at the same time.
Available on Supersunnyspeedgraphic.
3. The Gourds – Gin and Juice
Taking on Snoop Dogg’s ‘Gin And Juice’ in a full on bluegrass style could well have been a disaster. There is nothing less satisfying than a novelty record, particularly the 2nd or 3rd time you hear it. The Gourds avoid this trap with aplomb. They take the song straight, and play it well. It is funny sure, but never wacky, and it becomes something pretty unique. And it is a stormer, the style of music fits the song better than could be expected. The best bluegrass gangsta rap interpretation on record.
Available on Shinebox.
4. First Aid Kit – Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Deep in the hidden recesses of Youtube, in amongst the clips of guitar wielding indie kids attempting to play their favourite track is this treat featuring Swedish duo First Aid Kit’s take of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’. After more than 384,000 YouTube visitors tuned in it was soon added to the reissue of the band’s debut ep Drunken Trees. The youth of the plaid shirt wearing First Aid Kit, who were born in 1990 and 1993, the passion they put into this version and the clip’s location in a Swedish forest all merge to make this a true great among covers.
Available on Drunken Trees.
5. Ryan Adams – Wonderwall
Ryan Adams is another prolific coverer. His cover of the whole of The Strokes Is This It? remains unreleased. On his Love Is Hell record he covered the Oasis standard ‘Wonderwall’. His version is far superior to the original, a fact acknowledged by none other than Noel Gallagher. He has stated his disappointment that his brother’s limited skills mean they can’t do the song justice, and he plays the Adam’s version in his live shows. Adam’s is a clever musician and you can never tell for sure whether he means what he sings, but he sounds like he does. When Liam Gallagher sings the song you doubt that he even knows what the song is supposed to mean.
Available on Love Is Hell.
6. Iron and Wine – Such Great Heights
Such Great Heights is an immediate classic, a great, heartfelt, tender love song. It’s been well covered but one of the best is by Iron and Wine, who strips the original by electro-indie popsters Postal Service down to its bare, acoustic bones. Iron and Wine’s interpretation is so good that many of those on website forums believe it is the original, surely the greatest accolade that can be bestowed on a cover version.
Available on Around the Well, release date May 19.
7. Dinosaur Jr – Just Like Heaven
This cover of the Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ is pure Dinosaur Jr – full on and with plenty of guitar. Where the original has a dainty pop chorus this cover adds a death metal roar and in genius slacker style Dinosaur Jr’s lead singer J. Mascis couldn’t be bothered to learn all the lyrics, or even make them up. So the song just stops three quarters of the way through. Brilliant.
Available on Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr.
8. Adem- Starla
Among the treats on Fridge bassist Adem’s 2007 acoustic covers album Takes is his version of the Smashing Pumpkin’s B-side Starla. It starts with just voice and acoustic guitar, drawing out the emotion of the song and building up to a climatic string-section finish that knocks
several shades of the brown stuff out of the original. Adem even manages to merge in part of another Smashing Pumpkins track, Window Paine, at the end. It is sheer emotional, acoustic brilliance.
Available on Takes.
9. Futureheads – Hounds Of Love
This cover manages to straddle the gap between being immediately identifiable and yet hugely different better than almost any other. There is no mistaking the song, but hear them side by side and they are so different. The Sunderland band take Kate Bush’s plaintive original and inject their propulsive blend of XTC and Gang of Four into the mix. The backing vocals work brilliantly and are as much a part of the music as the guitars. And despite playing it very straight they somehow magnify the ridiculousness of the lyrics. “Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake”, indeed.
Available on The Futureheads.
10. Lemonheads- Different DrumA top ten of indie, alternative covers seems somehow incomplete without the Lemonheads take on the Mike Nesmith penned Different Drum, which was first recorded by Linda Rodstadt’s band The Stone Poney’s in 1967. Everything about this romantic break-up track fits with Evan Dando’s quirky attractiveness perfectly. The Lemonheads were serial coverers, of hits by the likes of Gram Parsons, Suzanne Vega and Simon & Garfunkel, but it is with the lyrics of ex-Monkee Nesmith where their true cover credentials come to the fore. No one can sing, “you and I travel to the beat of a different drum, oh, can’t you tell by the way I run, every time you make eyes at me,” like Dando.
From Favorite Spanish Dishes (currently unavailable).
Lemonheads fans look away now. Varshons, the band’s album of covers is not just bad, it’s terrible. What makes Varshons so particularly weak is that it is by a band whose reputation has been built on an ability to create some of the best cover versions around.
Forget The Lemonheads’ previous covers of Susanne Vega’s ‘Luka’, Mike Nesmith’s ‘Different Drum’ and Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’. These were undisputed classics. Varshons in sharp contrast features some well-known and less famous covers that are lacklustre at best and downright embarrassing in places.
Among the lacklustre tracks are opener ‘I Just Can’t Take It Anymore’, originally by Gram Parsons. Lemonheads are no stranger to Parson’s covers, with their version of Brass Buttons being one of the highlights of their 1990 album Lovey. Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando should be able to do a credible cover of Parsons in his sleep, sadly ‘I Just Can’t Take It Anymore’ sounds like he did just that.
Other lame efforts are versions of GG Allin’s ‘Layin’Up With Linda’, Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Waiting Around to Die’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’. The coma inducing production throughout by Butthole Surfer’s Gibby Haynes even manages to suck what little life there is in Linda Perry’s ‘Beautiful’. As painful as it is to write, the original by Christina Aguilera is far better.
The downright embarrassing comes in the form of their take of Arling and Cameron’s ‘Dirty Robot’, which is sung implausibly by Kate Moss. Huddled around the campfire at Glastonbury in their Hunter wellies the pairing of the supermodel and The Lemonheads may have seemed a good idea to Dando and Moss. However, she is no hidden musical gem, she can’t sing and her weak south London drawl has no business being recorded for posterity.
The only saving grace on this album is a cover of Sam Gopal’s ‘Yesterlove’, which at least shows a hint of emotion in Dando’s voice.
Even the most die-hard Lemonheads fans would be hard pressed to enjoy this album. Our advice is avoid and put on one of the band’s classics such as It’s A Shame About Ray instead. Or if it is covers you want get a copy of Adem’s Takes, which oozes with the energy and emotion that Varshons so sadly lacks.