Familiar to millions, the opening bass of ‘Straight to Hell’ might spark something of an interest in those wet behind the ears, having not realised it was a Clash original. That it spawned MIA’s avalanche single ‘Paper Planes’ cannot be ignored, for where the first takes the grit and division of the global family, much like MIA, Lily Allen’s is one that comes with more sweetness. Primarily the difference is in the vocals – of course Mr Strummer was no choir boy – but Lil’s unusually velvety setting, along with a twinkling music box melody, leave this version a Mick Jones approved sinister lullaby and pretty unmissable if you hadn’t made up your mind about Lily.
Sitting alongside Miss Allen are the top drawers of Hot Chip’s dancey take on ‘Transmission’ and TV On The Radio beefing up David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. The latter is as one might expect a foray into the layered jungle that TVOTR have made their speciality: click tracks, falsetto on top of falsetto from Kyp, fleshing out Bowie’s melody with throbbing bass. It is the art of a cover version – taken and moulded from its original form into something not totally recognisable but that retains enough of the core elements to remind you why you loved the song in the first place.
Charity or not though, there is little to excuse Duffy slurring all over ‘Live And Let Die’ where it seems impossible for the Welsh wonder-kid to round off the words articulately. Hers is an undeniably powerful voice, and underpinned with string harmonics and choir ‘ooh’s’, the rendition isn’t exactly outstanding. Particularly when coupled with Elbow’s grandiose ‘Running To Stand Still’, which transforms the U2 of old into a delicately building poem, reminiscent of their own ‘Starlings’, where brass is this time sung out by a harmonica; which reaffirms that, yes as Mercury would have it, Elbow are really rather great.
Hats must be taken off to The Kooks and Estelle for their very straight forward, and therefore entirely skippable, reincarnations of ‘Victoria’ and ‘Superstition’ respectively. Estelle doing Stevie Wonder lends little to the imagination since her resurrection into an American Idol. Still, some credit for the shrieking Hammond left in there, but for The Kooks a complete shrug. Dylanists (that’s obsessive fans of the Bobby D variety) will not want to hear that Beck has rivalled the great one himself by sexing up ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ – but there we have it. The bluesy guitar is allowed to rage free against some suspect sound effects, which leaves the vocals almost redundant, apart from the fact that they’re Dylans, god-like prose, just given the kiss of Beck.
The most surprising interpretation on this album comes not as a blasted invigoration to transform a track. Instead, The Hold Steady slap you in the face by living out their Springsteen dream in ‘Atlantic City’ and add in a saxophone – something you never realised the song needed to elevate it from a homesick opening into a triumphant stomp. Whereas, shamefully to say, if you’ve ever wondered what Scissor Sisters dancing a merry jig with Roxy Music would sound like, this album has satisfied your inquisition. And yes, it is as unnecessarily camp-tastic as everything on their eponymous debut, with Jake Shears ramping up his pitch to the most excruciating yet.
War Child ‘Heroes’ as a concept, a charity and an album series is unquestionably important. The gravitas given to this album by the ‘legends’ picking their successors to tackle the tracks is a feat of marketing genius. All in all it comes off well, a mix of bits, bobs and occasional brilliance. But with a favourable ratio of detestable to awe-inspiring, ‘Heroes’ should be brought in droves if only for the fact that it provides a clue as to where the hell the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been.
Popular right now