A Tribute To Repo Man
American Laundromat Records
In the pantheon of eighties non-documentary films that actually captured the spirit of the punk movement, there are really only three to concern yourself with. Rock N’ Roll High School starring The Ramones, Suburbia and Repo Man. All three had gifted soundtracks and now American Laundromat Records has released a tribute album to Repo Man. With any tribute record the final score is how well the new bands covered the old classics. I won’t front, the bands on A Tribute To Repo Man had their work cut out for them. So, how did they do?
The album opens with “Repo Man” covered by Those Darlins, a poppy indie rock group with garage rock garnishes. Originally the title song was busted out by the legend Iggy Pop. His version had that grimy Stooges vibe to it as well as Iggy’s undercurrent of roughneck hedonism. Those Darlins take the essential structure and amp up the production. Their version isn’t as dark as the original, leaning more to the poppy side of things. The song itself is well done and I like the female vocals but I think the loss of the darker edge to it betrays the original intent of the song.
Post hardcore group Polar Bear Club are the only savage failure on the entire album. Their rendition of Black Flag’s “TV Party” is a complete misfire. First they turn the song into a hardcore tune. Instead of the lumbering drive of the original, Polar Bear Club speed things up for full moshability. They also lose the cynicism and humor of the original by replacing the chorus. Black Flag belted out the chorus like a room full of drunken idiots reciting a mantra. Polar Bear Club turn that into cliché “riot vocals” that you could find on any mid to late eighties hardcore record. Polar Bear Club clearly appreciate Black Flag, they just don’t get them.
Amanda Palmer, formerly of The Dresden Dolls, comes in with the first full-on awesome cover. Taking on Suicidal Tendencies “Institutionalized” is a nearly impossible task but Palmer nails it by reversing it. Essentially she attacks the song from the female point of view without changing the words or the psychotic edge of the original. Palmer alters the music from testosterone punk-metal into moody swing jazz with dissonant horns. She recites the lyrics the way a girl would who is over everything. Instead of anger it drips with sarcasm and cynical indifference. When Palmer and the band erupt into the chorus, it makes her sound absolutely crazy and we’ve all dated that girl.
“Coup D’état”, originally performed by the Circle Jerks, is given the indie rocker treatment by New York Rivals. The band is smart in their cover. They take the energy of the original and filter it through their guitar driven QOTSA by way of The Strokes sound. Vocally New York Rivals do their best to achieve that Pixies wail. While not as unique as the Pixies, it does resonate, especially when belting out a song originally screamed by Keith Morris.
The little known band Plugz contributed three tunes to the original Repo Man soundtrack, including “El Clavo Y Cruz”. Black Francis (Frank Black of the Pixies) and the band Spanish For Hitchhiking cover this by deconstructing it and rebuilding it into something very different. The original was high energy with a buzzing horn that kept the pep up. It came off like the theme for a Speedy Gonzalez cartoon. Black Francis and his crew take all the elements of the song and slow them down, then spin it into this Spanish laced slow surf jam. Theoretically this shouldn’t work, the styles are too different, but Black Francis is the man so he makes it the second full-on awesome cover of the album.
If you ever wondered what the Peter Gunn theme would sound like if King Missile covered it and sprinkled in stream of conscious poetry, then welcome to “Pablo Picasso” by Burning Sensation. Their original version is so mellow cool and weird that covering it would be a harsh task. Enter The Tellers, who match the weirdness note for note and give us the third smash cover. Their version replaces the Peter Gunn surf feel with a white boy funk mixed with straight guitar indie rock. I have to be honest, at the risk of being crucified, I think I dig The Tellers version more. Mostly because the vocals are so bizarre.
“Let’s Have A War” features one bit of punk rock royalty giving way to another. Originally this anti-war jam was performed by Fear, now we get the Mike Watt And The Secondmen version. If you don’t know, Mike Watt was the bassist for legendary punk icons Minutemen (one of my favorite bands of all time). Watt does a very faithful cover of the original but adds some of his own twists and turns into it. Imagine Minutemen backing up Fear vocalist Lee Ving and you’ll get the idea. It’s the fourth knocked-out-of-the-park cover.
The Suicide Dolls do a really uninteresting cover of Circle Jerks’ “When The Shit Hits The Fan”. It’s a little too busy being “cool” to be something worthwhile. It’s like the audio version of the hipster that wears a Black Flag T-shirt ironically. Matthew Sweet, a name I haven’t heard in a long time, croons out a head bopping surf rock version of “Hombre Secreto” originally by The Plugz. Sweet doesn’t venture too far off the original, he just sweetens the song up (see what I did there)!
“Bad Man”, originally performed by Juicy Bananas, is a slow funk fueled testimony of a man that could be the baddest ass on the planet earth. Interestingly, there’s not too much known on Juicy Bananas so it follows that I found very little on Moses Coltrane, who covers the song. It’s a toss up which band performs a more badass version of the tune but Moses Coltrane may just slightly edge out the original. To my ear the vocals to each song sound close enough to have been sung by the same person. I guess part of what makes this the fifth awesome cover of Tribute To Repo Man is all the mystery.
Weekend round out Tribute To Repo Man with their version of “Reel Ten” originally by the Plugz. Weekend are lo-fi, ambient shoe-gaze indie rock. They incorporate a lot of textures and sounds into what they do, which gives “Reel Ten” a deeper and scarier sound than the original. This is the sixth outstanding cover of the entire album.
A Tribute To Repo Man, overall, is pretty killer. It’s obvious the folks at American Laundromat Records took a great deal of time to get this album right. The talent on here, both known and unknown, makes the album worth checking out. The cover and interior art are handled by rock poster legend Lonny Unitus, whose unique style has crafted posters for everybody from Melvins to High On Fire to Weird Al. If you don’t know Repo Man, stop everything and go watch it, then buy this album and the original. If you know the movie and know the soundtrack, you’d be doing yourself a favor by picking this up.