Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Quick Reivew of The New Covers Album From Field Music

Following on from the Mercury Prize nomination hubbub around their latest proper album Plumb -- which I thoroughly enjoyed, as my review back in February made clear -- the Sunderland band is back with a covers album entitled Field Music Play...

Now, the thing with covers is always the same; either the band does something new with the cover and updates the tune for another generation or they do something quirky with it. It's that simple.

Of course, you've also got the hipster trend of covering something left-field -- "Oh, we're taking a risk by playing [this]" -- that sort of thing.

It gets a bit old actually. How many cover versions have I got excited about only to play the damn things only a fraction of the times that I play the originals?

Maybe this time that will change.

Field Music tackle 8 relatively well-known tunes and here are the results.

Syd Barrett's "Terapin" comes off like George Harrison being produced by Jeff Lynne. There's a mid-1970s Roxy Music-twang here which is fitting due to the inclusion of "Is There Something?" on this disc.

The Pink Floyd-loon's tune is almost unrecognizable here and the Brewis brothers are to be commended for smoothing the rough edges off that cut and making it coherent.

"Born Again Cretin" from Robert Wyatt sounds like Talk Talk. The percolating drum machine recalls Eighties-style Peter Gabriel cuts and the languid pace of the song is a nice contrast to the sometimes bouncy exuberance of the Field Music boys.

"Heart", the first of two Pet Shop Boys covers, is well-realized and vaguely reminiscent of stuff like The Blue Nile (their 2nd album, maybe).

The Fripp-like guitar is subtle -- there's something proggy about it -- but the odd bits of instrumentation suit the tune and don't overpower it.

Nice work lads.

"If There is Something" is, quite possibly, my least favorite Roxy Music song. The ponderous Tin Machine cover in 1991 or so didn't help me like the tune either. Here, it sounds like John Cale which is fitting since there's a Cale cut coming up.

It's not entirely a failure -- there's a hint of Godley and Creme on this cut which is not a bad thing -- but it's still something I'm not going to play more than twice.

But that's just me.

Leonard Cohen's familiar "Suzanne" gets gussied up as a 1970s-style ballad here. The effect is interesting as the well-known tune and lyrics are here but the instrumentation seems to add another dimension to the song.

"Don't Pass Me By" was already brilliantly covered by The Georgia Satellites on their crimainally underrated second album so why redo it again? It's almost like the two Brewis brothers wanted to pick the most un-Beatle-like Beatle song just to mess with our expectations. Fine. The tune is reshaped into such a form as to be almost unrecognizable. It's a bold step and if you want to hear a Zappa-esque turn on a Beatles cut, then you might enjoy this.

Again, it's more intellectually interesting than actually enjoyable.

"Fear is a Man's Best Friend" from John Cale is less scary here. There's menace but not quite at the level of the original.

The other Pet Shop Boys cut closes the record in fine fashion. "Rent" sounds -- again! -- like Godley and Creme, but that's not a bad thing. There's a hint of XTC here but the keyboards make this into something else entirely. The slide guitar is used sparingly and the piano and keyboard lines anchor the cut.

Here Field Music have taken something seemingly detached and made it into something very much emotional and engaged.

That's about all I can say about Field Music Play... as it's not the sort of release that needs a pro or con review. Most people who want to hear this record are already planning to buy it.

And for new fans of Field Music, it's not an ideal starting point, frankly.

Still, there are nice moments here, if nothing entirely earthshaking.

Field Music Play... by Field Music will be out in mid-October on Memphis Industries.

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