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Friday, June 29, 2007

AFTER BEAT COVERS - sugarfields (JapanFiles download)

Covers albums are a risky proposition. The line between inspired reinterpretation and insipid regurgitation is a thin one, and too often, these projects dance across the line with all the co-ordination and subtlety of a herd of pissed-up wildebeest. Science tells us that every action must have an opposite and equal reaction, so for every Johnny Cash American album there has to be something like Duran Duran's Thank You (if you ever want to get someone out of your life, send them the execrable cover of Grandmaster Flash's ‘White Lines', then stand back and watch your friendship crumble).

This whole area is clearly a minefield, and those who undertake such an album are either very brave, very foolish, or simply don't give a fuck. I've never met him, but I'm guessing that one-man music maker Hara Tomonobu falls into the latter category. Not only does he do the whole covers album gig by himself, he takes on songs by sacred cows of Western music such as Nirvana, James Brown, The Doors and The Stone Roses. The results are so good that the only downside to AFTER BEAT COVERS is wondering what monstrosity it will spawn as its equal and opposite reaction.

AFTER BEAT COVERS reflects Hara's eclecticism as it takes in lo-fi indie, skanking acoustic pop and anything else that catches his magpie ear. There are covers of some old J-Pop songs (as far as I can tell), but not knowing what the originals sound like I can't say very much about them. The same can't be said for ‘Sally Cinnamon', ‘All Apologies', ‘People Are Strange' and ‘Sex Machine' (yes, that one). Hama's versions tend to sound vastly different to the originals, but there's never any doubt as to what the song is. His pronunciation is defiantly Japanese and will probably bug some purists, but that's their problem, not his.

‘Sally Cinnamon' was probably The Stone Roses' shiniest pop moment. Someone deciding to cover it might think about dramatically different ways to redo it - how about a sub-Throbbing Gristle industrial clang-fest, or an out and out heavy metal version? Hara eschews any such option and instead gets his kazoo out (at least that's what I think it is), and buffs up the song until it's a blinding pop gem. ‘All Apologies' gets a more dramatic makeover, as Hara takes Kurt Cobain's tortured torch song into blissful territory that in the Nineties would probably have been called ‘trip-hop'.

This album is good, and not because of any novelty value derived from a Japanese take on some well-known Western songs - Rocket K's uninspired attempt at ‘Video Killed The Radio Star (in which the pronunciation is basically the only thing that distinguishes it from the original) is ample proof that such an approach doesn't work. AFTER BEAT COVERS is an example of this genre at its best. After listening to the album and being amazed you'll want go back to the originals and find things in them that you'd never noticed before, or in the case of the J-Pop songs here (especially ‘Tokyo') you'll find yourself seeking out the originals to see how they measure up to these versions.

Buy it on shiny CD here, or ephemeral download here.