Grant-Lee Phillips – nineteeneighties

grantlee It’s been a hell of a long time since I had New Order’s song “Age of Consent” stuck in my head. The same can be said for Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon,” or The Psychedelic Fur’s “Love My Way’.

But thanks to Grant Lee Phillip’s newest release, “Nineteeneighties”… they’re back.

It’s an interesting concept: take a bunch of early alternative rock songs-  from before it was actually called “alternative” – and cover them with folky, acoustic arrangements. It’s both an homage and an attempt at reinterpretation in Americana mode, and it’s much more successful on the homage end of the spectrum.

The record kicks off with an ambitious take on the Pixie’s “Wave of Mutilation” – a song that Rhett Miller once described as “the best song ever written”. I may not fully agree with that sentiment, but I loved that particular Pixies album. A lot. What I find most notable is the way it starts out sounding like a Hawaiian rendition of “Sea Of Love” with acoustic and pedal steel guitar.

He also covers my other, earlier favorite band from the eighties, R E M, and he even does it with one of my very favorite R E M songs, “So. Central Rain”.

The funny thing is after repeatedly listening to this for the last week I get a lot of these songs going through my head when I’m not listening. But it’s the originals I keep hearing. And that may be the album’s one shortcoming. He doesn’t really improve on the originals, he just does them differently.

All in all, it’s not a bad record. His treatments of the songs are sparser, folkier, even a little countrified here and there. But the beauty of a song like “Wave of Mutilation” wasn’t so much the lyrics but Black Francis’ frantic vocals over Joey Santiago’s squalling guitar. It works much better that way.

On the other hand, at least you can plainly hear and understand every word in “So. Central Rain” – that was never the case with any song R E M ever recorded. And it’s nice to be reminded that, for a short time, after the untimely and tragic suicide of Joy Division’s vocalist Ian Curtis, the rest of the band formed New Order and put out some pretty decent music before they went completely synth-disco on us.

If nothing else, “Nineteeneighties” accomplishes that and – if you were into any of these bands way back then – dredges up some pretty nice memories.

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