As I began to write this review, I heard that John Hughes had died.
The man who almost single-handedly defined the '80s in film, starting
in 1983 with Vacation and moving on through Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club before closing out the decade with Uncle Buck. As the '90s rolled into town, he changed up his
schtick a bit, and did three Home Alone movies, Curly Sue and a few others we won't mention here before ultimately petering
out. Regardless, he is remembered for his work in the '80s, which
helped to define not only that decade, but much of what came after;
where would Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith be today, if not for Hughes?
I mention this here because like Hughes, Love and Rockets got started
and rose to fame in the '80s, helping to define that decade and
influencing many bands that came after. They broke up in the 90s after
changing up their sound, and despite a few feints at getting things
back together, gradually petered out. And much as I remember growing
up with The Breakfast Club, I also remember growing up with
Love and Rockets.
It is somehow fitting, then, that I have the opportunity to review New Tales To Tell: A Tribute To Love and Rockets today, because
it's an opportunity to doubly reminisce. Most tributes tend to end
right there, at reminiscence; fans buy tributes to be completists, and
aside from one or two good songs, what they often end up with is a
bunch of filler material from lesser-known bands. In this case,
however, the filling is full of tasty goodness, and there's little
here to dislike, from start to finish.
Black Francis covers "All In My Mind" with love, a churning, bouncy
sort of ska-like love that kicks things off with a bang before
dropping you off an electronic cliff into a dark "Holiday On The
Moon," ably handled by Puscifer. Other standouts include Dubfire's
cover of "I Feel Speed," which practically lets you see the white
dotted line slipping past into the rearview mirror, as well as
Frankenstein 3000's "No Big Deal" and The Dandy Warhols' "Inside The
Outside," which would have been equally at home on the Cool World soundtrack. Much more delicate songs close out the album in a wash
of fuzzy shoegazey pop, Ian Moore leading the way with "Sweet F.A."
followed by Snowden's cover of "No Words No More," the subdued,
ethereal hum ending abruptly mid-whisper.
But the album is nothing if not unpredictable (is that one too many
negations?). The Flaming Lips cover of "Kundalini Express" sounds like
a drunken Cylon playing with a broken guitar, yet still comes across
as mostly melodic and worth repeat listens. Immediately following is
Sweethead's "Life in Laralay," a fairly straightforward guitar-driven
rocker with a spot-on female lead. Later, Chantal Claret and Adrian
Young turn "Lazy" into a sultry lounge-act. Blaqk Audio's cover of "No
New Tale to Tell" starts off in a rather understated fashion before
pumping up the jam about 1:30 in; "Mirror People," covered by Monster
Magnet and Adrian Young, likewise hits the spot at about the same
spot, the psychedelic surf rocker effectively dividing the album in
two; VEX's cover of "It Could Be Sunshine" starts with sweet vampish
vocals atop deep, dark beats that become a race to the finish at 1:35;
Film School's cover of "An American Dream" makes it just a few seconds
longer before drifting into something that races along picking up
steam before hitting a wall and tapering out with (you guessed it)
about 90 seconds left. Must be something about changing things up when
you hit the '90s...
If there are minor bumps on the road, they're to be found with "The
Light" and "So Alive." The former, covered by A Place To Bury
Strangers, drifts too far into the electronic side of the spectrum and
washes out the vocals with too much feedback; the latter, covered by
Better Than Ezra, takes a slow, seductive 4:08 classic and turns up
the tempo, getting it done in 3:30 and making me wish they'd followed
the speed limit signs a bit more closely.
Sadly, I must also take issue with the fact that much of the material
recorded for this album has been split up and spread out, with special
bonus tracks available on Amazon, iTunes, and vinyl versions of the
albums. Though the completist in anyone would be thrilled with any one
version, I find it hard to swallow the idea that fans should have to
purchase 3, 4, or more versions of the same album to get all the
material. It's the slightly bitter aftertaste to an otherwise very
sweet album -- but only because I wish I'd had the chance to review
ALL of it at once.
Favorite Track: "Sweet F.A."
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Michael Fiegel is a freelance writer and game designer. His diverse
background includes journalism, radio copywriting, technical writing,
graphic design and music reviewing. He is best known as the creator of
Internet cult sensation Ninja
Burger and the dark, twisted psychological Vox RPG. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his website, www.aeforge.com.