11/4/11

(Ahk Toong Bay Bi) Covered - a track review

If I was to choose my favorite rock album in the world, it would probably be Achtung Baby by U2. An almost perfect amalgamation of really strong songwriting and sonic adventurousness. An incredible work where the band completely reinvents itself yet maintains the very core of what U2 is all about. Regarding reinvention I haven't run into anything similar elsewhere. Maybe Kid A by Radiohead comes close. Close, but not cigar.

Achtung Baby turns 20 this year and a lavish repackaging project is out now in celebration of the 20 year anniversary. Q Magazine is also celebrating the anniversary by releasing the tribute album (Ahk Toong Bay Bi) Covered with their December issue. They've commissioned covers from an interesting bunch of artists. I've given the album a few spins and below are my reviews/ratings of each cover from best to worst.

Stream the full tribute album here

1. Gavin Friday: The Fly
F*ck yeah! Gavin Friday is Bono's longtime friend/soul mate and he has known the band since forever. He pops up here and there in their history. I remember noticing him credited as "consultant poptician" in the liner notes for the Pop album and thinking it was really cool. I've also come upon descriptions of him as "the dark side of Bono" and it is said that the MacPhisto character from the Zoo TV tour is based on Friday's persona. He does solo work every now and then and he used to sing in a weird Dublin band called the Virgin Prunes. They were part of the same kind of milieu that U2 were part of in the early days. This cover is just a really cool and ballsy deconstruction of "The Fly" which in my opinion is one of the best rock songs in the world. Ever.

2. Jack White: Love Is Blindness

Wow! The final track on the best album ever gets an intense reworking by White. Wouldn't expect anything less, really.

3. Garbage: Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
Not sure if every aspect of the production works and I've never been a big fan of Garbage, but this is still surprisingly good. Shirley Manson taps into some emotional potential that doesn't always shine through in the original (or; it depends on the mood) and there's something about those chord changes and the sound of the track that I really like. Beautifully imperfect. Like the original, actually.

4. Depeche Mode: So Cruel
OMG! It's Depeche Mode covering "So Cruel"!!!

5. Patti Smith: Until The End of The World
OMG! It's Patti Smith covering "Until the end of the world"!!!

6. Nine Inch Nails: Zoo Station
OMG! It's NIN covering "Zoo Station"!!!

7. U2: Even Better Than The Real Thing (Jacques Lu Cont Mix)
Achtung Baby marked the point where U2 became heavily interested in dance music and began commissioning remixes from dance producers from all over the world so it's only fitting that a remix made it onto this album.
I've always liked their remix discography - it's like an alternative dance floor history of U2 - and there are some real classics in there. The funny thing is U2 have had people remix their music for 20+ years so the different remixes are done in different styles that fit with what was contemporary at the time. Some of the early 90's remixes have a really cool Madchester/acid house/euro vibe to them. "Even Better Than The Real Thing (The Perfecto remix)" and "Salome (Zooromancer remix)" are great examples.
The great thing about this new remix by Jacques Lu Cont is that even though he's tackling a track that is 20 years old the result doesn't sound awkward. It's just sounds fresh.

8. The Killers: Ultraviolet (light my way)
I've always considered The Killers to be heavily U2 inspired so this makes sense. A fitting cover that adds a dash of theatricality to the proceedings. And Brandon Flowers has the pipes for it. Nice enough.

9. Damien Rice: One 
Apart from a certain on/off intensity in the voice I find Mr Rice to be a bit of a dull fellow musically, mostly because his original material tends to be too bland. Here he's working with an absolutely amazing piece of songwriting and the result is actually quite ok - the sombre low register vocal does a certain justice to the song - but in no way does it beat Johnny Cash's version on American III: Solitary Man (2000).

10. Snow Patrol: Mysterious Ways
The funkiest track on Achtung Baby reworked as a ballad. Ranks high in the "covers should be interpretations and not just rehashes of the original"-department. Pretty and nice. That' about it.

11. Glasvegas: Acrobat
I really really REALLY love the song itself. There are some days when no other song in the world expresses and summarizes more clearly and intensely how I feel and think. But sadly the Glasvegas version doesn't do much to it. Uses the same tricks to lesser effect. The original track is breathtaking. U2 at what is probably their most shoegazey.

12. The Fray: Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World
A great song reworked as run-of-the-mill FM radio crap. Thanks but no thanks.

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So, is it any good? Yes, I think so. This is a tribute album that proves its point: the original album by U2 is an amazing piece of work. Not a single weak track. A masterpiece. It's fun to hear the interpretations of each song and how they illuminate different aspects of the songs. It is also fun to be reminded that I'm not the only one who loves and finds challenge and comfort in the grooves of Achtung Baby. There are millions of us out there.

Album tracklist:
01. "Zoo Station" Nine Inch Nails 6:28
02. "Even Better Than the Real Thing" U2 (Jacques Lu Cont Mix) 6:39
03. "One" Damien Rice 5:26
04. "Until the End of the World" Patti Smith 3:36
05. "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" Garbage 5:16
06. "So Cruel" Depeche Mode 6:02
07. "The Fly" Gavin Friday 4:16
08. "Mysterious Ways" Snow Patrol 4:48
09. "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World" The Fray 4:33
10. "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" The Killers 4:53
11. "Acrobat" Glasvegas 4:08
12. "Love Is Blindness" Jack White 3:20
Achtung Baby original album cover

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