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Stylin' with Styles

Saturday, 30th August, 2003

I heard the new Blondie album today, 'The Curse of Blondie', which I hear will not be available in the States. To me that's a very strange decision, especially as the opening track is a rap number. Don't panic, it's not out and out hiphop with samples and scratching and all the rest of it, just another Blondie take on another genre like they've done many times before. It's certainly not the most unusual sound as there's even an traditional Okinawan folk number on here too. The songs aren't as immediate as some of the old classics, but they do bear up to repeat listening and they sound good. I can see the album growing nicely on me.

Much of tonight, though, I've been torturing my rather lovely fiancee and her son from a safe 5,120 mile distance with some very strange cover versions. I've always despised cover versions that sound exactly like the originals, and loved those that entirely reinvent rather than mimic. Some of my favourites are Tori Amos's voice and piano takes on songs like 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' or 'Losing My Religion'. She even attempts a subdued version of Slayer's 'Raining Blood' on her album, 'Strange Little Girls', which is entirely covers of songs originally recorded by men.

I've been acquiring a lot of really strange cover versions lately, but most of what I played tonight fall into two categories, each dominated by a single band. Just as the 80s trend in covers seemed to be the punk take on pop classics, the 00s seem to have brought in a bunch of lounge singers doing alternative rock or even metal songs. Did Pat Boone set a trend here? His wonderfully fun 'In a Metal Mood: No More Mister Nice Guy' may have hit more nerves than those in the people who pulled his long running gospel radio show because they didn't appreciate the joke. For those who haven't heard, Pat sang lounge covers of metal standards like 'Smoke on the Water', 'Paradise City' and 'Crazy Train'.

Possibly most notable in this new lounge trend is a gentleman by the name of Richard Cheese and his backing band, Lounge Against the Machine. He looks the part, he sounds the part and he even plays Vegas. What more could you need? Oh, and his albums 'Lounge Against the Machine' and 'Tuxicity' contain stunning lounge covers of alternative rock favourites by such names as Nine Inch Nails, The Beastie Boys or Papa Roach. My favourites at the moment have to be his versions of Disturbed's 'Down with the Sickness', Van Halen's 'Hot for Teacher' and White Zombie's 'More Human than Human'.

Quietening down nu-metal to the level of Vegas keyboards is one thing, but it can go further. Rockapella work without instruments at all except for their own voices. That's right, a capella versions of pop and rock numbers. The best I've heard so far has to be their version of 'Hound Dog' which includes a bunch of experimentation in the mid section as well as a speeded up ending. This is what a capella music is supposed to sound like! Now, is it actually Rockapella?

I can't find it in their discography unless I'm just overlooking it at this time of night. There are certainly other a capella outfits working the same material but Rockapella do seem to do a lot of originals. Maybe their name is being generically applied to an underground movement to convert favourite songs into a capella versions. It's a good trend as far as I can see and I'll investigate further to see who is actually recording this stuff. Rockapella may just be responsible only for some of it... 'Dock of the Bay' is definitely them, as is 'Stand By Me' and 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight', along with a couple of Christmas albums.

But if not them, who did the 'Mission Impossible' theme, Tom Petty's 'Free Falling' and Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody', because they're superb! More soon, maybe.

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