Grant-Lee Phillips - NineteenEighties
It is usually at a funny time in a musician’s life when they turn to the covers album. Most attempts have been disastrous - apart from the cover of 'Perfect Day' Duran Duran's Thank You album is pitifully bad, as is the collection by Erasure. Def Leppard of all people have just produced an album that includes among its covers an excruciating version of 'Waterloo Sunset' and even 'Step On', made famous by the Happy Mondays. Therefore, it is a rare thing to come across an album of covers that actually works.
Grant-Lee Phillips, who previously led the group Grant Lee Buffalo, has achieved what few manage and has produced an excellent, soulful collection of cover versions, all drawn from the 1980's. Eleven tracks from his formative years, mostly performed semi-acoustic with some exquisite arrangements and a wide variety of instrumentation. He renders wonderful versions of songs from the likes of Nick Cave, New Order and The Pixies, in a style all his own. These are not copies of the original, but clear interpretations from someone who obviously cherishes these songs very closely.
Highlights include a gentle, sedate rendition of Wave of Mutilation, with a strummed acoustic and a haunting slide guitar. The Eternal is also a marvel, full of harmonica and a pleading piano, bringing fresh life into the song. Seeing Age of Consent on the track list made me nervous, it being one of my favourite songs of all time, but his version is just sublime - he sings "I've lost you" at the end with such emotion, bringing new power to a true classic.
Other highlights include The Killing Moon, superbly performed, and Boys Don't Cry, slowed down to a much easier pace. Songs this good are hard to ruin, but Grant-Lee really plays on his strengths, bringing much of his own character to the mix. Album closer, from the final Smiths album, is passionate and mournful, a haunting string arrangement and a gently picked guitar, his sombre vocal merely another instrument of lament.
This is an excellent release, skilfully put together showcasing some fine songs. His passion for the originals is never in any doubt - these are the songs that he has real affection for, and he more than does them justice.