Tuesday, August 28, 2012

For some reason, people still make tribute albums

So I finally got around to listening to Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac. Part of the reason it's taken me so long is that I'm just woefully behind on new music releases. I blame this on a recent Radiolab obsession. Have you listened to that show? So good. I downloaded their app and have been making my way through the episode archives. (Although, confidential to Robert Krulwich: No more mentioning how you dislike the word "awesome." Ugh. We get it already. Jesus.)

The other reason I have procrastinated listening to Just Tell Me That You Want Me is more obvious. It's because, no mater how hyped they are (and they're always way hyped), tribute albums are usually terrible. Even the songs by the artists you like are usually a let down. There are one or two good songs, and a whole lot of filler. And the "filler" songs can range from forgettable to just offensively bad. But as an overall listening experience, tributes don't tend to have a lot of staying power. Just look the used "Various Artists" bin the next time you go to a record store (I mean, if you ever go to a record store again). I promise, it is filled with multiple, dusty, unloved copies of the following compact discs:

If I Were A Carpenter (Only good songs: Shonen Knife's "Top Of the World" and Sonic Youth's "Superstar.")

Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams (Only good songs: Soul Asylum's "Summer of Drugs" and Evan Dando's "Frying Pan." Some will argue Pearl Jam's "Crazy Mary" should be included here, but that's just stupid.)

Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (Only good song: The Cure's "Purple Haze.")

Ecomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin (Only good songs: none.)

Of course, you might be thinking, "Oh, Laura. Those albums came out in the 1990's. Most people were not even born yet, let alone listening to "compact discs." Fine. Here's a more recent example: 

Rave On: Buddy Holly (Only good song: Patti Smith's "Words of Love." And it's not even all that great. I'm just kind of in love with her.) 

But! Just Tell Me That You Want Me is different. Well, at least different enough to make it surpass my admittedly very, very low expectations. There are two songs that are immediate stand outs: Antony's "Landslide" and the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy/Matt Sweeney version of "Storms." It helps that those are also two of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. I also already knew and loved the extensive cover song repertoire of both Antony and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy going into this.

The sure sign for me that this is a pretty solid collection: I only hated two of 19 songs. MGMT and the Entrance Band's contributions just don't do it for me. MGMT's version of "Future Games" is a tedious nine minute Moon Safari-era Air rip off. No thanks. And the Entrance Band is still on my shit list for playing way too fucking long when they opened for Sonic Youth a couple years ago. And their take on "The Green Manalishi" is as tedious and wank-filled as all the songs I saw them play live. Plus they're from L.A. so there is very little chance I will ever give them a fair shake.

So there you have it. If you like any of the artists on this tribute record, Fleetwood Mac, or penguins I'd recommend giving it a listen. By its very nature, it won't stand the test of time, but it offers some sweet moments for the present. Take them in before Just Tell Me That You Want Me gets deposited in the dusty, digital used bin in the sky.

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