The disco-rock miscreants return with an album of other people’s songs that offers nothing new to the original versions.
There comes a point in many a band’s life when the idea of the covers album becomes attractive. Maybe they are going through a creative dry patch, or maybe they just want to acknowledge the bands who made them what they are today. Either way, these albums are a mixed bag – at best a collection of songs that take on new meaning and work together as a whole, at worst a collection of desperate and pointless covers. The latter is especially true when a band doesn’t really step out of their comfort zone and simply takes tracks from bands that already sound very much like them, and add nothing new. The worst cover versions are those that barely differ from the originals because let’s face it – we already have the definitive versions by and large. But even at their best, these albums tend to be little more than a slightly more interesting version of the tribute album – one band covering lots of other acts rather than vice versa. Unless done very well, they often seem a redundant exercise.
How many great covers albums can we name? Can we, in fact, name any? Bowie‘s Pin-Ups has its moments but still feels like a filler LP more than an artistic statement. I’m struggling to even remember any more right now, and doesn’t that say something?
I’ll be honest here – like, I suspect, a lot of people, I had no idea that Electric Six were still a thing. I enjoyed their hit singles Danger! High Voltage and Gay Bar as much as anyone else, but they felt like an act that wasn’t going to have staying power. But here we are, some twenty years later and I have an Electric Six covers album in front of me. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. let’s see what we have here.
The band certainly offer a mixed bag of songs on Streets of Gold, from acts like INXS, The Jam and James Ingram, and frankly, how successful they are depends very much on how you feel about the original tracks because there is nothing radical happening here. If, of course, you find the very idea of a cover blasphemous, then the idea of the best covers being of songs you actually like might seem odd – and perhaps, under different circumstances it is. But if, say, you hate The Jam with a vengeance (and it’s possible that I do), then this version of That’s Entertainment will not float your boat, given that it is essentially just a straight cover of the track. On the other hand, cracking tunes like Fleetwood Mac’s Little Lies, Alice Cooper‘s No More Mr Nice Guy and Kiss‘ Strutter are all treated with a similar respect/lack of adventurousness, and so they are not going to make you feel as though the songs are being molested by ruffians.
But surely the point of a cover album is to do something different with the songs – to reinvent them and risk the wrath of the purists. At times, these tracks are less experimental than current live versions by the original artists, and that seems a bit… well, empty. The best we can say here is that some of the less beefy songs are slightly beefed up in the style of the band, but to be honest it feels a stretch. Electric Six were fun because they were outrageous and collided heavy guitar rock with a disco beat, but all that is lost here – the little moments that frontman Dick Valentine adds a roar to proceedings feel contrived and desperate.
Perhaps the mistaken nature of the whole thing is best summed up by the fact that the single from the album is the turgid – both in original form and here – Yah Mo B There. Why this has been chosen as the album’s calling card rather than something with a little more swagger is anyone’s guess. I doubt it’ll help sales.
The album ends with new versions of the band’s two hits, which might be a moment of arrogant cheekiness – why not cover your own work on a covers album? – but is more likely to be a rather desperate move. It must be hard to be known simply for a couple of tracks, knowing that they will be all anyone wants to hear when you play live and will forever doom you to the status of one (or two) hit wonders in the eyes of the general public. Including those songs here might be a way to grab attention, but I suspect it will ultimately do the band no favours – you don’t shake the past by clinging to it.
ironically, when I got this album, it sent me down the research rabbit hole of just what the band has been doing all this time, and frankly their other albums – you know, the ones I had no idea existed – actually seem pretty interesting and adventurous. So if the purpose of an album like this is to serve as a reintroduction to an act, then it has probably done its job. And hey, every hole’s a goal, right?
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