Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Holmes - Covers

Imagine if you would that you are watching television.  In the middle of your program the motion onscreen jerks to a halt and is replaced with static.  Disconcertingly the static is replaced by a new picture, but not from the show you were watching.  You see an empty stage.  A well-dressed man in a black suit and tie appears and seems to be looking directly at you.  When he speaks his voice resonates inside the hidden depths of your mind.

“Good evening.  You are about to enter another dimension.  This is a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.  We’re going on a journey into a wondrous land of musical imagination.  Next stop, the Cover Zone!”

The picture changes once more.  Gone are the empty stage and well-dressed man, replaced by a seemingly normal looking suburban home with a well-tended yard.  A rather short man wearing a blue suit and glasses approaches the front door.  He puts down his briefcase, removes a set of keys from his pants pocket, opens the door and enters the house.  After the door is shut the voice of the debonair narrator is once again heard through the television speakers.

“The place could be anywhere, the time is now, and the fantastical journey we’re about to watch could be your journey.  You’re about to meet Penfold, age undetermined, staff writer at The Ripple Effect.  He goes to sleep tonight certain that the world of music will be the same as he left it upon waking.  Now witness what happens when some not so subtle changes take place.”

Penfold wakes at the normal time around 7:15 AM.  He yawns, stretches, and gets out of bed.  Following his well-honed routine he prepares himself for the day ahead.  Everything was progressing smoothly.  It was only after his breakfast that the first sign of something amiss reared its ugly head.  Penfold turned on the radio.  It was tuned into the local classic rock station.  The familiar melody of Queen’s “Bicycle Race” is heard, but Penfold quickly notices one very important difference.  Someone else is singing the song!  Confused he waits for the DJ to offer an explanation.  When the DJ attributes the song to somebody named Holmes however, it only furthers Penfold’s confusion.  He decides to switch stations.

The second preset on Penfold’s radio is for a station devoted to classic hip-hop music.  He doesn’t understand why he is hearing an acoustic guitar, and believes he hit the wrong button.  Then he hears the singer.  It sounds like the same guy who sang the Queen song!  Worse, he recognizes the lyrics being sung.  Those were lyrics from Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day”!  Staring incomprehensively at the radio he hears the station host explain that he had just listened to the artist known as Holmes.  Becoming more alarmed he punches preset button number three, the sacrosanct oldies station.

Disturbingly the music being played sounds like it was recorded with modern equipment.  The song’s melody registers in his mind as something he has heard before, but he can’t quite place it.  Then the singing starts.  It’s the same guy!  It’s Holmes, and he’s performing an Elvis song!  Impossible!  Something inside Penfold snaps.  He stares blankly off into space as Holmes continues to sing “Don’t Be Cruel”.  Slowly but surely a sheepish grin creeps onto his face.  As if waking from a dream, Penfold appears to reconnect with reality.  He shakes his head and resumes his normal routine, seemingly happy.  The camera pulls back and the narrator speaks once again.

“ Penfold.  Music fanatic.  Initially unwilling to accept his new musical reality.  Music can’t change like that you say?  Perhaps not where you live.  But it did happen in…The Cover Zone!”
Greetings waveriders!  So glad you could join us.  Here’s a question for you.  What is something that is guaranteed to grab your attention?  Of course there are many answers to that question and everyone’s answers will be different.  Take me for example.  One guaranteed way of insuring my full and undivided attention, musically speaking, is to offer me something that I’m not expecting.  Case in point; the album Covers by Holmes.

If the first track on your album begins with a simple, elegant piano line and upbeat vocals that tickle some memory in my brain…wait a second!?  Is this an Ice Cube cover?  Yes!  Yes it is!  Wow!  Okay then.  Transforming a well-known gangster rap song into a gleeful pop sing along will ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will be listening to the rest of your album with great interest.  When the next song turns out to be a rather subdued, introspective take on The Gap Band’s funk classic “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” I’m pretty much sold.  Oh, there’s more?  Fantastic!

Cover songs, it should be noted, are a hit and miss proposition with me.  Hearing a band or artist perform a faithful rendition of one of their favorite songs, especially in a live setting, is something that I enjoy.   On record however, faithful renditions of songs by someone else often leave me cold.  The cover songs that I most enjoy are all markedly different than the original composition.  This in turn is the main reason why I enjoy Covers by Holmes as much as I do.  Of the thirteen covers that make up the album, only a couple of them do not offer significantly different versions of a well-known original.

So what are the highlights?  Pretty much the entire album.  Which song should you listen to first?  Well, that depends.  Holmes covers a lot of ground with his song selection.  Of course you have the aforementioned Ice Cube and Gap Band tracks.  The version of Michael Jackson’s “Working Day And Night” strips away the horns and auxiliary percussion heard in the original and chooses instead to focus on a tight interplay between guitar and Wurlitzer piano drawing out the inherent funkiness of the song.  Want to hear a decidedly heavier, more atmospheric version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight”?  You’re in luck!  Any Elvis Presley fans?  You’ve got to listen to Holmes’ rendition of “Don’t Be Cruel”, one of the real standouts on the album in my opinion.  Looking for a more recently released song?  How about Depeche Mode’s “Wrong”, which in the hands of Holmes is transformed into a stomp-happy, southern-fried rocker.  Also, take a listen to all the added warmth Holmes and company infuse into Massive Attack’s “Paradise Circus”.  Basically what I’m trying to say is pick a track, any track.  You’re going to like what you hear.  I would say that I guarantee it but I don’t want to defend myself against some far-fetched copyright infringement suit brought against me by lawyers representing The Men’s Warehouse.

Alright waveriders, here is the bottom line.  If you fancy the idea of listening to imaginative renditions of familiar songs then look no further than the album Covers by Holmes.  From start to finish you will be grinning like the Cheshire cat!

P.S.:  Let’s explore the Cheshire cat angle a bit more, shall we?  For additional mischievous enjoyment play select songs from this album for friends (offering no primer on what to expect) and watch as their faces scrunch up in confusion and/or puzzlement.  Good times!



1 comment:

Ben said...

My favorite covers album of all time.

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