Paint It Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones
(House of Blues)
Kashmir: Symphonic Led Zeppelin
A hundred years ago, the creative landscape fostered outrageous acts of art by Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and Munch. Approaching 2000, our own fin de siecle is marked by Hanson, the Spice Girls and reunion discs or comeback attempts by virtually every successful group we thought was long gone. The kings of the music industry wouldn't know a good song if it bit them on the ear, but they're great historians--and they realize that what sold once just might sell again. To put it another way, those who do remember the past condemn us to repeat it.
In the case of Lounge-A-Palooza, however, that's not such a bad thing, because many of the artists involved have jumped headfirst into reinventing their chosen tunes rather than simply rehashing them. The Ben Folds Five, sounding like Astrid Gilberto in a parallel universe, retain the humor inherent in the Flaming Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly" while remaining true to the lounge genre; the Pizzicato Five score with a high-tech ear-teasing "Girl From Ipanema" (points off for going on a bit too long, though); and the James Taylor Quartet (no, not that James Taylor) injects "Music to Watch Girls By" with a throbbing Hammond organ, a cool and moody trumpet solo and a busy rhythm track courtesy of a drummer who must have been getting paid by the sixteenth note.
Not everything on the compilation works: Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme's orchestral version of the Soundgarden chestnut "Black Hole Sun" is interesting but not really good, and PJ Harvey's "Zaz Turned Blue," from the Was (Not Was) catalogue, is a downer dirge that's about as much fun as finding a wet Kleenex in your pocket. (Wasn't she at the Lilith Fair? It must have been a real drag backstage on that tour when all the performers' cycles synched up.) Even worse is Glen Campbell's remake of his own "Wichita Lineman." Michelle Shocked coos oddly throughout the song, and Freddy Fender's voice quavers like he's got a potato chip up his ass and is trying not to break it. But the failures are in the minority. More often than not, Lounge-A-Palooza is retro fun with a twist.
Considerably less adventurous is Paint It Blue, on which some great blues artists who've been covered by the Rolling Stones return the favor. Most of the cuts consist of overheard pre-Some Girls "classic rock" hits; alternate impressions of "Hand of Fate" or "Rip This Joint" would have been more intriguing than another run-through of "Satisfaction." But the late Junior Wells and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown deliver performances capable of filling your pristine suburban living room with the smell of stale beer and leftover cigarette smoke, and the late Luther Allison and Johnny Copeland check in with worthy recordings made shortly before each shuffled off this mortal coil.
As for the Led Zep-inspired Kashmir, it's bound to appeal to fans of Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream as well as to boomers who have made the transition from Yes arena shows to John Tesh concerts. The brainchild of egghead bandmates from Killing Joke, it sounds like Led Zeppelin sans Robert Plant and features truly ugly artwork.
Clearly, music history is up for grabs. What's next--jazz renditions of Fleetwood Mac hits? Of course, as the best moments on these discs demonstrate, some tributes are worthwhile. But choose among them carefully, because a mediocre disc in this genre can be just as bad as any other mediocre new album. And the lesser of two evils is still evil.
(Thirsty Ear Recordings/All Saints' Music)
Good Lord--a Brian Eno instrumental project you can enjoy in broad daylight. Of course, you wouldn't want to operate heavy machinery while listening to the thirty-minute-plus "Iced World" on your headset. But even on that piece, there's none of the Sudafed dullness that we Eno fans heard on The Shutov Assembly or On Land. In fact, the straightforward melodies and quiet, loungecore-ish percussion are part and parcel of the clearest sound Eno's achieved since his 1975 classic Another Green World, and he's integrated piano with synthesizers more seamlessly than ever. The not-so-fatal flaw is that many of these instrumentals seem stunted, just short of a defining moment--lacking only, perhaps, a Jon Hassell trumpet from Mars, or guitar loops from hell, or even a singer delivering surreal lyrics of the kind Eno was always good for.
The La Brea Tar Pits of Routine
For the intro and finale to their debut CD, the Czars conscripted a couple of Russian acquaintances, Andrei and Oleg, to read from a surrealist tome and warble a Russian folk song, respectively. These Russkie bookends lend the recording a mythic, transcontinental feel that blends facilely with the soaring echo-chamber cuts lifted from their earlier recording, Mood Swing. By contrast, some of the band's newer works, like "The Eyes Are Darker Now," sound as strummy and middle-American as an outtake from Reckoning, but John Grant's foghorn vocals manage to hold the disparate geographies together. More problematic is the work of co-producer/engineer Bob Ferbrache, of 16 Horsepower fame, who was apparently so enamored with the raw materials (justifiably so) that he manhandled the mastering. Those keen on the Czar's live act may find the production overweening; every note seems greased and polished. But the implicit drama of the band's compositions withstand the treatment, in part because Ferbrache, to his credit, gives the low end a deliciously sludgy feel that moves with the inertia of a slow-motion dust storm and compensates for the vague sanitization elsewhere. At times Jeff Linsenmaier's awesome drumming, which has become a key feature in the Czars' performances, is submerged by this approach, but he rises to the fore on "Half the Time," a tune of his own composition that's built around creepy synthetic oscillations. LaBrea has received regular rotation on the Paris radio station Aligre 93.1, which suggests that the Czars are deserving of a label contract (and perhaps a posh tour as house band on the Orient Express) even as it disproves certain assumptions regarding the musical tastes of the French.