Before I start writing about this release, I’d like to make a few things perfectly clear:
As a rule, I don’t go out of my way to listen to ‘tribute’ or ‘covers’ albums. Don’t get me wrong – I do listen to them if they are there in front of me, but I’d rather spend my time listening to something else.
There are way too many tribute albums available. Twenty years ago, it was a novelty but now they are mildly annoying.
With that being said, I’d like to direct your attention to a new two CD set entitled Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasion. This set was the brainchild of a gentleman by the name of Andrew Curry. Andrew was also the mastermind behind Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock, a collection that featured modern indie bands putting their own spin on ‘70s Lite Rock gems. Lo and behold, that collection was an absolute joy to listen to and hit me in the gut. It made me temporarily LOVE the idea of tribute albums… but that feeling evaporated once I realized that not many of them were quite as good as that one.
Drink A Toast To Innocence is one of those rare albums were the artists actually seemed to love and respect the music they were reinterpreting as opposed to just wanting to have a song on a compilation that might be heard by more than a select few.
Now, over a year later, Andrew has set his sights on the British New Wave scene that infiltrated the American charts in the first half of the ‘80s. Normally, I would have flinched when I heard that someone was doing yet another ‘new wave’ tribute, but because of Drink A Toast…, I totally trusted Andrew’s vision and couldn’t wait to hear it.
Well, here it is and it is magic! If you’re going to do a tribute album, then do it like this. Every track here will be familiar to even a casual ‘80s fan (no obscurities) and practically every reinterpretation is worth your while.
Some of the artists stick close to the original arrangements of the songs but manage to add just enough personality to make it different. Cliff Hillis’ excellent take on Nik Kershaw’s “Wouldn’t It Be Good” is faithful to the original song structure but steers it out of Synthpop territory and turns it into a big, bouncy Guitar Pop classic complete with horns. Minky Starshine’s version of Spandau Ballet’s “True” stays….err.. true to the original but also adds a touch of modern pizazz to the recording (did I just use the word pizazz?). Other artists that don’t deviate too far from the original versions - and treat them with love and respect - include Bleu (“Don’t You Forget About Me”), Secret Friend (“West End Girls”), Eric Barao (“Tainted Love”), and The Nines (“Life’s What You Make It”). David Mead’s ‘Save A Prayer” isn’t a totally radical departure from the original, although the underlying Bossa Nova groove is a stroke of genius. “Life In A Northern Town” gets an indie pop upgrade courtesy of Chris Collingwood (Fountains Of Wayne). TeamMate turn “Tenderness” into a bubbly Electropop nugget that I think I actually like a tad bit more than the original (but I can’t quite put my finger on why).
Other artists take the songs into completely new territories including Rachael Yamagata, who turns Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” into the devastating piano ballad it always should have been. The Corner Laughers’ spirited take on Madness’ “Our House” is possibly even more fun than the original – they truly make the song their own (and as I discovered later, it fits right into their own catalog of great Pop tunes). People On Vacation’s “Cruel Summer” is now closer to a Power Pop classic than you ever thought it could be. Tracy Bonham turns “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” into a slightly menacing, minimalistic triumph. A few of the acts strip away the big production and focus on the melodies with acoustic takes on songs like “Kids In America” (Big-Box Store), “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” (Mike Viola), “Promises Promises” (Freedy Johnston), “They Don’t Know” (Graham Alexander) and “Digging Your Scene” (Ken Stringfellow of The Posies).
I could go on and on, but I’ll take this time to gently urge you to purchase this collection pronto. If you like modern Indie Pop, then you’re in luck with this one. If you love ‘80s music, then you are even luckier. If you are a big fan of both modern Indie Pop AND ‘80s hits, then you’ve hit the jackpot here.
Now, I have TWO tribute albums that I love and I’m eager to hear more… but only if Andrew Curry puts it together. Otherwise, I’ll be less than mildly interested in hearing anything else.
NOTE: I had absolutely nothing to do with putting this collection together but I was asked to supply the liner notes, which was a great honor. I held off on this review in order to NOT seem as if I was too biased…