There’s a popular trend the past few years whereby popular musical acts perform their classic albums in full during a concert. Music festivals like Pitchfork have been the scene of many of these full album covers, and Rock & Roll weirdos The Flaming Lips are currently performing the album The Soft Bulletin on some summer tour dates.
The Lips are also covering another album on select tour dates … and it’s not even one of their own. The band’s version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (recorded and released last year) will be performed in its entirety again when the group plays Red Rocks in Colorado early next month.
Another fan of full album covers is Beck, who concocted a “Record Club” featuring members of bands like Wilco, MGMT and Sonic Youth (among others) taking on full albums like Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground’s legendary debut full-length and Skip Spence’s Oar, as well as less expected selections like INXS’s Kick and Yanni’s Live at the Acropolis (?!). Give ‘em a listen here.
The recordings can be pretty hit or miss, but that’s part of the set-up of the project — the whole album is completely recorded and finished in just one day, without any pre-planning or rehearsal.
Local musician and engineer Steve Wethington liked the idea so much, he and some musical pals (admittedly) ripped it off wholesale. One day in April, he and members of local bands like Knife The Symphony, The Chocolate Horse, State Song, Oso Bear, The Turkeys and Caterpillar Tracks gathered at local recording studio New Fidelity Productions (where Wethington works) to take on Ghost in the Machine, the fourth album by Sting and The Police which came out in 1981. Wethington says they didn’t quite make the self-imposed 24-hour deadline (a few vocals tracks were added later), but the album was finished and mixed and is now available for the public to stream or download here.
Like the Beck project, the local artists tackling Ghost didn’t try to recreate the album note for note; instead, they reinterpreted the tracks to come up with something entirely new.
“The idea was not to faithfully recreate the original songs, but to interpret them and play them the way it felt right for us to play them,” Wethington writes on the project website.
The nature of the project means not everything worked perfectly, but it also resulted in some really magical moments, and as a whole, it's a really great listen. I was a Police fanatic growing up — had every album in every format (yes, including 8-Track), postered my entire bedroom with pics of Andy, Stewart and Gordon, etc. — so Ghost (like all of the band’s records) is an album with which I am intimately familiar. To me, it’s also an album that — like a lot of ’80s records — was marred by weird production and the band’s overexcitement over being able to slather the tracks with synthesizers and horns. Which is why, in many ways, I often found myself enjoying the local version of the album more than the original. Take away the costly recording budget and Jamaican vacation that was the sessions for the ’81 Ghost, and I was reminded of how good some of the songs on the album actually were.
The hit “Spirits in the Material World,” for example, is a song I rarely find myself longing to hear these days, due partly to the awkward synths and partly to just hearing it way too much. But the local Record Club strips it back to its essentials, retaining the melody and the core Reggae vibe with just guitar, drums and groovy bass work, but adding distorted, fuzzed-out guitar to handle the piano parts.
One of the original album’s silliest and more overindulgent moments is the bumper-sticker message and unnecessary horn section of “One World (Not Three).” But on the cover version, the musicians cut out all the fat and perform the song with just drums/percussion, twinkling vibraphone and bells, some swooshing sound effects and a more muted vocal delivery, which makes the didacticism of the original disappear almost completely.
Below our a couple of the tracks — the hit “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and my personal fave from the release, “Darkness,” which the locals rework to great effect by making it more emotive and direct, thanks in large part to Scot Torres' naturally anguished approached. (Click on the title of the track for a listing of who played what on each recording.)02 Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by stvwthngtn 11 Darkness by stvwthngtn
Wethington says they plan to make the Record Club an ongoing project, with another session tentatively planned for this fall (he says they’ve yet to decide on what album to tackle). We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, Wethington says he’s finishing up a collection of covers by The Cure that he recorded himself (not in one day), featuring one Cure tune from every one of the band’s albums up through Disintegration. Keep an eye on the Record Club site to check it out — Wethington says it should be posted there soon.