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I normally wouldn’t touch an album of covers for all the tea in China. After all, where would I put it all, the logistics would be a nightmare. But more than that, I’m more about looking for the next musical thing rather than harking back to what has gone before. But Whole Lotta Love is the work of Renee Stahl and Jeremy Toback and so that is more than enough to make me throw my prejudices out of the window, caution to the wind and the album on the turntable. The latter only virtually. Obs!
The problem with most covers is that no one wins. Either it stays too close to the original begging the question “what was the point,” or it goes too far into its own territory begging the question “what the hell?” It takes a deft foot to walk along that sweet spot between authenticity and adventure, between what was and what might have been. Thankfully, Renee and Jeremy have four of them. Feet that is.
They have essentially taken a wealth of classic songs from across the spectrum, from classic rock to modern indie, from funky soul to alternative sounds, and reinvented them as understated whisper-folk meets ambient minimalism. The album as a whole leans into the idea that songs are never really finished, that they have more than one life to live. We, as listeners, get hooked on one version of a song because it is the original or the first one that we heard but that is just an account of what happened on the day of recording. Reinvention and evolution are the way forward, quite literally, and why shouldn’t bands take iconic songs and send them into sonic alternate worlds, why shouldn’t they write new endings to well know stories.
The title track takes Led Zeppelin’s hard and heavy, foot on the monitor, riff-o-rama and turns it into a whispy, hip, and indeed hippieish, folk thread, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, the Gun’s and Roses staple, strips the testosterone and bombast from the song and redelivers it as a loving lullaby.
But it isn’t just hard rock numbers that get the makeover, although the contrasts between the original and the re-imagination are perhaps the starkest in those cases. George Harrison’s gorgeous “Here Comes The Sun” is basically optimism reduced to a sparse and simple strum, The Pixies depressing, nostalgic and slightly upbeat “Where Is My Mind?” becomes a soft and sensitive piece of quirky alt-folk, and “Roam” sees The B52’s recast as The Mamas and The Papas at half-volume, half-speed and with half the vocalists.
Some people produce covers of songs because they merely want to ride the coattails of those bands who have gone before, associate themselves with past glories. It takes a brave person to take such well-known songs and offer new takes. Thankfully Renee & Jeremy are brave people and the world is a better place for them playing the covers card. And, that is probably the first time I have ever heaped such high praise on such an album.
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