Local H – Local H’s Awesome Mix Tape #1 (5/5)
The joys of the cover song are many. Live, cover songs can be a way to hear an old favorite with the sort of bursting energy that can only be witnessed in a tight, beer drenched space. On an album, however, it’s a little trickier. For an optimum cover, a musician needs to uncover something new and surprising in the original while maintaining whatever made that song great in the first place—a tricky proposition for any band. Local H is no stranger to covers. They have recorded several over the years that can be found on various singles and E.P.s. (My favorite is their cover of Guided by Voice’s “Smothered in Hugs.”) And yet even for a band well versed in turning in great covers—they managed to do a cover of Britney Spear’s “Toxic” without making it feel like a novelty track, after all—the prospect of an all covers E.P. can be worrisome. Local H’s last album, 12 Angry Months, was arguably their best (or, best since Pack Up the Cats, depending on how you crunch the numbers), so why would they potentially tarnish that triumph with what could potentially end up as Scott Lucas doing karaoke?
Fortunately Local H came up with a diverse range of songs to cover and a unique tact for engaging each one. From the Brooklyn indie darlings TV on the Radio to the eighties hardcore punk band Agent Orange to British tabloid star Pete Dougherty, the representative bands and musicians are an intriguing stew of rock and roll music from the past four decades. The ensemble cast of artists forces Lucas to vary his approach to each song. After all, it’s redundant to do a faster version of the original when the song’s already at breakneck speed. Perhaps the most surprisingly successful song on the album is TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me,” a track that, in the vein of Blur’s “Song 2,” managed to be perfectly polished ball of energy. Lucas may not have been able to outrun the original’s pace, so he instead dragged it through the mud, scuffing up the song with a squealing intro and plenty of feedback. Lucas seems just as comfortable taking over vocal for Johnette Napolitano of the band Concrete Blondes for their 1990s hit “Joey” as he does for any male vocalists. Instead of coming across as self-conscious cross-dressing, the performance is absolutely sincere, suggesting that a great pop song transcends gender. The trickiest cover may have been a rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Time,” a great song that has been nearly destroyed by its ubiquitous presence on your uncle’s favorite classic rock radio station. Local H institute a scorch earth policy on the original, napalming its storied place within the rock and roll canon with a brutal series of guitar solos. In the end, Local H’s Awesome Mix Tape #1 serves as a reminder that Local H have turned in great music all these years because they know what great music sounds like.