Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Album Reviews

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Album Reviews

Article excerpt

The Best of UB40

UB40 (Virgin)

A double-disc compilation that is heavy on Chrissie Hynde cameos, light on the band's early roots-dub sound. After fifteen years of recording, the reggae-popsters fill half of this "best of" with cover tunes. I guess the world IS ready for the fifty-seventh reworking of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition."

--Jeff Daniel

*****

Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits

Various Artists (Manifesto)

To my initial disappointment, I discovered that only Waits' early years are covered here. It wasn't until 1983's "Swordfishtrombones" that the raspy-voiced chronicler of life's macabrely quirky situations discarded the Tin Pan Alley routine and developed a style of his own.

On second thought, if Waits is going to be interpreted, perhaps its best that his highly inventive and original pieces be left alone. How does one deconstruct and reassemble songs that do that to themselves in their original forms?

On these covers of his stark, straightforward ballads, there is a nearly even split of literal interpretation and complete overhaul. Failing miserably in their attempt to emulate Waits are Violent Femmes, Magnapop, Archers of Loaf and Tindersticks. On the other hand, Dave Alvin (Ol' 55) and Alex Chilton (Downtown) contribute tunes that sound as original as anything in their own catalogue.

Surprisingly, it is the British bands, especially those with female vocalists, that best interpret this American original. Head Buzzcock Pete Shelley turns "Better Off Without a Wife" into a double-time pop gem, and on "Red Shoes by the Drugstore," the underrated Wedding Present successfully transplants Waits' aura of Los Angeles urban decay to their native Manchester.

With their lilting, ethereal vocals--the antithesis of Waits' style--Drugstore ("Old Shoes") and Pale Saints ("Jersey Girl") turn in performances that are beautiful in their simplicity. Ironically, it is by turning Tom Waits' work on its head that these two bands come closest to capturing the spirit of innovation that he now embodies. …

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