In 2009, Ruth and House of Heroes both brought us EPs of cover songs. And to add to that, other bands have gotten in on the cover song action, such as Pillar, Confide, August Burns Red, And Then There Were None, and even David Crowder*Band. Some have been to pay tribute to a favorite band (ie House of Heroes covering some of The Beatles' songs), and some were purposely outrageous (ie August Burns Red doing a Britney Spears song for Punk Goes Pop 2). If you've enjoyed any of these, you may be wondering who's next to jump on the bandwagon. Perhaps oddly, it's electronic music pioneer Joy Electric. Ronnie Martin has chosen nine songs from about the past five years and synthed them up as only he can. Since pretty much all of the songs he chose are the most popular ones - and on a couple occasions the most overrated ones - from their respective bands, it makes for the inevitable moments where you may say "Why, Ronnie? Why this song?" However, there are a few gems as well.
Favorites At Play gets off to a good start with a cover of Feist's "1 2 3 4." As one of the several artists made famous by iPod commercials, Feist delivered somewhat of a female-fronted Brit-pop style, and Martin does a decent job remaking the song, with a similar tempo and some beeps and boops that make sure the two versions of the song sound related. "Viva La Vida" from the mega popular Coldplay is next. The cover is given a house/trance makeover, and Martin's vocals kinda sound like a slightly creepier Chris Martin (or maybe that's just me). It's one of the higher points on the album. A song from one of the most popular mainstream pop punk bands follows, "I Miss You" from blink 182, which serves as a good example of Martin picking the most popular of a band's songs as opposed to their best. Then again, it can be a difficult task to find a blink 182 song that's both clean and worth covering. Regardless, Martin kept the song close to the original - or at least as close as he could given the dancey style of music he makes. Also, by this time is when I began to realize that he seems to be keeping all the songs close to the originals when it comes to the vocal pattern. Sometimes when artists cover a song and experiment with it, they'll change it up so much that you can't even recognize that it's another song. But Martin only experiments with the music and doesn't touch the vocal pattern, which is kind of nice. The first of two songs from a movie soundtrack is next, "Falling Slowly" from the movie Once. It includes some synth that almost sounds like a banjo keeping rhythm as well as some robotic sounds at times. It's kept at a slow pace and fits in nicely after "I Miss You," and actually flows pretty nicely into "When You Were Young," made famous by The Killers, another song that was obviously the popular choice from the band. Since The Killers use a lot of electronic and keyboard sounds in their songs, the Joy Electric rendition doesn't sound too far off from a remix that the band could've done themselves. And with Brandon Flowers having a somewhat unstable voice, having Martin's vocals in place works well, proving to be a good cover song.
Martin surprised me with the next song, 2004's "Somewhere Only We Know" from piano-led pop rock band Keane. I love the vocals in the original, but Martin's are a little annoying singing this version, making it kind of difficult to listen to, especially the part that says "And if you have a minute why don't we go talk about it somewhere only we know? This could be the end of everything, so why don't we go somewhere only we know?" The next song was made into something that could've been on an album from one of Martin's other projects, The Foxglove Hunt. Hearing the vocal pattern put to the new wave style music made The All American Rejects' "In The End" sound like it legitimately came from the '80s. While the original is one of my least favorite AAR songs, Martin did a good job with it. The second movie soundtrack song follows, and also the song that is the one that would have the most pop culture appeal: Paramore's "Decode" (which is the only song that features any of the original vocals behind Martin's). I had a hard time listening to this one, not necessarily because I believe Twilight and Paramore are very overrated (which I do), but because the original song was very poorly written and sung. And even Martin's version didn't improve much. On one hand, I have to give him credit for doing the best he could with what he had, but on the other hand, he probably could've omitted this one and chosen a completely different song. This leads us into the last song, "Say It Right" from pop singer Nelly Furtado. Martin's vocals are pretty good in this one - a tad off in the chorus, but not terrible - and the music is simple and is without a beat, but it fits in nicely, although it awkwardly brings the album to a rather abrupt stop.
Some people will hear of this album and think it's a waste of time, or just lazy on Martin's part. But really, for an artist like Ronnie Martin, who puts out new full-length albums on a consistent basis (including the occasional side project), it's unfair to use the term "lazy." More than anything, cover song albums are just novelties. Granted, some bands make their career out of it (like Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, who ONLY play punk rocked cover songs), but for artists who don't, when they make a cover album, it doesn't usually count as their "next full-length record." However, just because it doesn't count that way doesn't excuse the artist from making a sloppy record. But Martin hasn't done that. While some of the song choices may have been questionable (whether it was a quality issue or just simply the fact that the song was still relatively new), he still did a decent job covering them. And he definitely did them in an original way, seeing as how most cover songs nowadays are done in a punk, metal or acoustic fashion. So fans of cover songs should be entertained by this, so long as they don't have a problem with strange sounds and slightly creepy vocals.- Review date: 10/19/09, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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