Various Artists - War Child Heroes: The Ultimate Covers Album
Wed 15th Apr, 2009 Music Reviewsin
The charity compilation is a difficult collection to criticise – no matter how poor the songs are it’s all for a worthy cause, so you can’t really complain, right? Thankfully War Child are experienced in this whole caper of getting the finest bands together to offer up their time and tracks to raise some coin for the children affected by war across the globe.
Unlike the recent bushfire collection which haphazardly threw Bill Withers and Paul Kelly into the mix beside Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Shannon Noll, the War Child team know how to compile their collections with far more care – their fine track record includes 1995’s Help!, which offered tracks from Oasis, Radiohead and Blur, 2005’s Help: A Day in the Life and the Miss Sarajevo project that brought U2 and Pavarotti together.
On this collection the ‘heroes’ of the title include most of the big names in music with Dylan, U2, Bowie, The Clash, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen songs among the fifteen classics covered on the record. The list of artists stepping up to offer their interpretations isn’t too shabby either with Beck, Lily Allen, Franz Ferdinand and Peaches stepping into the studio.
Last year’s Mercury award winners Elbow deliver a stunning version of U2’s Running to Stand Still, lifting the Joshua Tree album track to glorious heights on Guy Garvey’s stirring voice. It takes a voice as assured as Rufus Wainwright’s to handle the melody lifted from a stretch from Brian Wilson’s masterpiece Smile.
While Duffy proves herself a class above the current crop of retro soul influenced popsters with her restrained reading of Paul McCartney’s Bond theme song Live and Let Die – easily out classing the tortuous abuse that Gabriella Cilmi hurled upon Whole Lotta Love at Sound Relief. (Sure that was also for charity… but there is a line.)
The less generous, or tabloid gossipers, might see Mick Jones’ first line (‘there ain’t no use for ya’) as a swipe at his accomplice on Straight To Hell – Lily Allen. Her version may veer away from the sound that Jones’ and the rest of The Clash brought to the original, but at least her sweetly barbed reading of the tune keeps it out of the clutches of another sub Libertines style racket coughed up by the NME’s current likely lads.
That said obvious choices of cover and coveree provide some of the best moments on the collection. Boss accolades The Hold Steady offering an elegiac take on Springsteen’s Atlantic City, The Kooks continue their love of the Kinks with a punchy Victoria and having worked with Bowie on their Return to Cookie Mountain TV on the Radio return favour with a stunning cover of Bowie’s Berlin anthem. They’re helped out by a faintly audible Karen O on the chorus, but she also steps up with her Yeah Yeah Yeahs for a scrappy cover of the Ramones’ Sheena is a Punk Rocker. The punk edge also carries through as Peaches continues her infatuation with Iggy Pop by tackling Search and Destroy.
Hot Chip take Joy Division to the indie dance floor in a way that should erase the pain of hearing The Killers and The Wombats attempt to do the same, Scissor Sisters remind everyone that they’re still around with ‘a danceable solution to teenage revolution’ – Roxy Music’s Do the Strand. Though Estelle’s run through Stevie Wonder’s Superstition clears the floor and leaves the punters in the corner mumbling darkly about better efforts in karaoke bars.
Not everything here is heroic, charitable as they may be, but from Beck’s opening glam stomp Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat to Franz Ferdinand’s sprightly live cover of Blondie’s Call Me this is a charity disc that’s nearly as worthy as the cause it supports.