There’s two school of thoughts regarding cover versions: one vehemently asks to don’t mess with a classic, another declares that it’s both a homage and a chance for newer generations to find the lesser known influences from the past. If you are in the second band and want to cover something, where to start and how much do you deviate from the original?
Mark Kozelek has been doing it for ages. He’s covered AC/DC, Modest Mouse and more, transforming them from their genres into beautiful acoustic numbers. Some of the songs were well known, others weren’t.
In the case of Repo Man (the film), it is a gem of a film that also serves as a perfect reflection of a punk scene (down to the posers crowd), while still being a veritable who’s who of proper punk (Circle Jerks, I’m looking at you!). The soundtrack is quite well revered (I hope it is!) and it’s a daunting task. So let’s go over this in a track by track manner:
‘Repo man’ is covered by Those Darlins, who crank the distortion up, keep the same pace and offer those lyrics about being worn out by the day to day grind a good injection of life. The dissatisfied lyrics still resonating in these hard times.
Plate of shrimp.
Polar Bear Club take on ‘TV party’ and although it’s still an honourable anthem to coach potatoes, the lyrics have been upgraded slightly (“Friday night lights!“), just to tap on the current Zeitgeist. Loud and brash.
2 tracks and you could argue that they aren’t pushing the envelope (which is cool, they love the original material too much) and then we run into Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra. Which song they covered? Suicidal Tendencies‘ ‘Institutionalised’. Look, I love the original, but this is fucking awesome. Again, changes to the lyrics because the protagonist is different, but the message (and the frantic desperation) is spot on, with the new musical arrangement adding 7 more layers of madness. This is quite a highlight (the sax solos are crazy). Someone buy her a Pepsi.
New York Rivals take on Circle Jerks and this is a Salomonic decision for me: the original is amazing and the post punky/spacey style of this might take away the aggressiveness of the original, but the message is still there, undiluted, like concentrate sulphuric acid in a pool of water: looks safe, care to dip in?
The one and only Black Francis takes on The Plugz‘s ‘El clavo y la cruz’. It’s the Lento Rodríguez to the Speedy González of the original and he’s made the song his own. This is cool by itself, but I’m more impressed by his Spanish accent. The solo is deliciously easy paced.
The Tellers make ‘Pablo Picasso’ a more fashionable track, an interesting take that has a pop suit well tailored for it (for someone who is only five foot thee). Mike Watt & The Second Men abandon hope and go into a happening. They return with warpaint on and a good cover version (I prefer A Perfect Circle‘s take myself, but this is good).
Have I mentioned that I like Circle Jerks? Their hilarious self-parody in the film and the acoustic version of ‘When the shit hits the fan’ were always a dear part of the film and The Suicide Dolls do their best to imprint their psychedelic garage on the track. I was going to dismiss this, but I stopped being a fucking fanboy and gave it a good grade, especially because when the cover seems to end, they then play it in a faster way (as it was re-recorded for Golden Shower of hits as a punkier track). This and Amanda Palmer‘s are the top cuts right now.
Matthew Sweet singing in Spanish. Did that sink in? He actually does a good job (miles better than Bryan Adams or Bon Jovi ever did) and the classy ‘Hombre secreto’ is a song that suits him quite well. Always loved the riff.
There’s only one character you should fear in Repo Man and that character is Lite. That’s why he had his own theme tune (which he also sang!) called ‘Bad Man’. The funky 80s track has received a Cybermen-styled make up, with a crunchy guitar lick accompanying the “fuck with me and I’ll 86 you, punk!” voice of Moses Coltrane. Take the car, man! I know you ain’t no cop!
‘Reel ten’ was the reverberated guitar ditty that guided us slowly to the skies. It was a frank tribute to the 50s style of rock and roll while still being a fresh track. Weekend‘s take on The Plugz classic pays tribute to 80s synth, with some darker atmospheres and swells (love the flanger filter – blast off!). Perfect cover.
Make me choose three tracks as the best ones in this collection and I’ll go for The Suicide Dolls, Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra and Weekend. Ask me if this makes a good tribute to an excellent album and I’ll answer yes. It respects the source material and adds its own style to each track. So eat a few pecan pies and listen with an open mind.
This album is out now on American Laudromat Records (link).
Words: Sam J. Valdés López