Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
That classic Johnny Rotten line could potentially come to mind every time you give a tribute album a shot, although I am probably more tolerant than most. The problems usually range from labels using the concept as an exercise to produce a roster sampler (certainly makes accounting easier!), so you’re at the mercy of their acumen in selecting not only the artist to fete but the bands they sign. Others are major label attempts saddled by the ridiculous need to have name artists as participants. Not to slag the more successful bands, but sometimes they are more clueless than the label’s Executive Producer – you know, the nutjob who thought it as a good idea to match artist and song in the first place.
More often than not, the greater successes spring from a smaller label; one that either has or collaborates with a visionary who sees the project as a labor of love and respect. Having the connections to rope in some worthy artists never hurts, of course, especially since these things do not sell well. Which also explains why ninety-five percent of them will sail under your radar.
While I was refiling some albums this weekend I came across a doozie from a decade ago – hard to miss with an electric cover like that. Certainly not a perfect one, but if you’re going to blast the rust off an old year and start fresh, what better torch to blaze than The Sex Pistols? This review originally ran in PopMatters.
Seventeen (no pun) songs in 50 minutes—that’s about three minutes per and that’s just about perfect. Which is what this concept is, too; from the drop-dead look and feel of the cover art to the selection of some of the more raucous punk bands to participate. Besides paying props to the classic Never Mind the Bollocks album, additional cuts include cuts from singles and The Great Rock and Roll Swindle. Some of the tracks nail the energy and spirit on the head while others…oh hell, it’s a tribute record, you know the drill.
Kicking off the disc is The Booked’s version of “Holidays in the Sun”, absolutely relentless and everything you would hope to get from each interpretation. Ditto “No Feelings” from The Generators; The Boils’ amped up version (really!) of “Submission” and especially Road Rage with “EMI.” Road Rage’s drummer Victicious (you’ve gotta love that!) sounds like he’s shooting off cannon blasts, while guitarist Gav shreds on guitar. “Friggin’ in the Riggin,” the Sex Pistols’ John Valby-ish performance from Swindle, is actually a worthy inclusion thanks to Showcase Showdown’s spirited take. The two biggest Sex Pistols tracks (“God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant”) get decent bar band treatment, but aren’t as strong as they could be. I mean, it’s only three chords…oh, never mind, I’m just a lazy sod.
When the bands do swing and miss—like L.E.S. Stitches’ disappointingly over-the-top try on “Bodies”—it’s for much the same reason so many hard rock bands suck. They take themselves too seriously! When it’s all bombast and no sense of humor, it’s just (as Johnny Rotten would say) booorrrinngggg! Actually, this record makes you realize just what an emotive vocalist Rotten was, especially when inferior vocalists (Blanks 77) trip over themselves. But everyone does rip it up, even when the drummer in Submachine sounds like he’s broken everything but his snare.
Overall though, this is a long overdue CD—kudos to Radical for a solid effort! And labels, take note—tasks like spending some time on clever artwork, listing all the tracks with credits and providing information (names, contact numbers, addresses) for all the bands involved should be mandatory.