Hit and Miss affair on triple album of covers.
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a significant increase in the “covers album” and whilst there have been some outstanding examples, Emma Swift’s take on Dylan and Larkin Poe’s re-imaging of favourite songs jump to mind, it can be difficult to achieve a consistency of quality. ‘Life’s What You Make It‘ isn’t in the pandemic driven category though, it’s the third release from the Lush cosmetics brand and carries forward their “theme” – having started with more or les folky covers of songs from the Sixties/Early Seventies (‘Self Preservation Society‘) followed by ‘Instant Replay‘ an all Seventies collection (search out The Imagined Village’s version of ‘Kashmir‘ from this, you won’t be disappointed) this triple vinyl LP release is dedicated to re-imaging the Eighties. Across thirty songs that allows a fair bit of territory to be covered – folk-ish numbers such as Suzanne Vega’s ‘Small Blue Thing‘, dance tracks like The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds‘, as well as out and out synth-pop with songs originally by Eurythmics and much else in between. What makes for a good cover though? Sometimes it’s as simple as just the right voice and instrumentation that would have improved the original, more often it’s doing something radically different that shines a new light on the song. Too often though a cover just makes the listener silently hum along to the original song that’s playing in their head – so picking something more obscure is also a good bet for a good cover to avoid that instant comparison. ‘Life’s What You Make It‘ has some of all these approaches making it, perhaps not surprisingly, a case of varying musical quality. Add in that any given listener will find songs they’d rather avoid then the striving for excellence is already that much harder. Much of the Eighties can be a hard sell, and of the three albums so far this is the weakest seam to mine.
To pick out some of the finer attempts – Ben Murray & Richard Evans make Phil Collins’ finest hour ‘In the Air Tonight‘ a slow and haunted thing. Rioghnach Connolly pushes the celtic edge up on an emotional ‘The Island‘, bringing out the nuances of Paul Brady’s song, and what lyrics – “we sacrifice our children to feed the worn out dreams of yesterday / and teach us dying will lead us into glory / But, hey, don’t listen to me / this wasn’t meant to be no sad song, I’ve heard too much of that before.” Eliza Carthy’s ‘Cabin Boy‘ takes the Tom Robinson original to its logical full folk conclusion – a memorably raucous rendition. Sheema Mukherjee rescues ‘Everywhere‘ from Fleetwood Mac “the mediocre years” and makes a gorgeous and (whisper it) dancable version. Blissful.
Other songs, as previously hinted, are less memorable – The Duloks deliver a version of ‘Wig‘ that follows the B-52’s original quite closely, Teddy Thompson’s version of ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?‘ sounds like Paul Young covering the Tina Turner hit. His version of Kirsty McColl’s ‘Fifteen Minutes’ is a complete loping down at heel Americana success though – just emphasizing that you win some you lose some in the covers game. Taking the “do something very different” approach Stealing Sheep take the Violent Femmes’ ‘Blister in the Sun‘ and make it a full on electronica/synth attack. It’s certainly different but maybe for the wrong reasons. Martha Tilston’s ‘Cloudbusting‘ is delicate and beautifully arranged for guitar and strings – but Kate Bush is so iconic that her phrasing on the original’s vocal was never far from memory.
The absolute star of the collection though is Marry Waterson, here outshining fellow Waterson-Carthy clan members Martin and Eliza Carthy. Her version of ‘Here Comes the Rain Again‘ perfectly moves it from synth-epic to a spacious fiddle and echoey guitar arrangement with just a perfect vocal. Even better is the morphing of Propaganda’s ‘Duel‘ into an intensely English folk take on emotional angst – meeting the great cover version requirement of great song, great different arrangement and a vocal that fully displaces the listener’s memory of the original.
Overall ‘Life’s What You Make It‘ is an interesting mix that’s mostly worth hearing, and with a good handful or two of songs you’ll probably listen to again and again. Add in that it’s only available physically on vinyl and it will have an added attraction for certain readers (and you know who you are).
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