[CD Review] Various Artists, Controversy (Rapster) and Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra, Enjoy! (Koch)

Cover records have been a recurring evil in the alt-rock canon; for every public radio fave change-up (Jose Gonzalez's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," Mark Ronson's Versions, Johnny Cash's "Hurt"), there are the can't-hold-a-candle-to-the-originals better left uncovered (every other "Love Will Tear Us Apart" cover, those unbearable brass-band/string-quartet Radiohead "tributes," etc.). Because as covers canonize and validate an artist's work in the public (radio) domain, they can also say more about how much that artist is lacking these days. A Prince song can make you want to smile, fuck, dance and sing along, not necessarily in that order; but covering Prince is like covering God—both entities are all things to all people.

Controversy contains mostly boring renditions of Prince's least-boring songs; some of these covers have been kicking around for years, which explains the dearth of so-five-years-ago downtempo klatches that are the exact opposite of Prince's rocking out with his cock out. Soulwax's "Starfish and Coffee" just sounds like Starbucks, while Kode 9 & Space Ape's "Sine of the Dub" is narcolepsy passing for self-importance. Even Peaches and 7 Hurtz can't do much more than muster a corny skit over an electro "Sexy Dancer." Only D'Angelo and Rob Mello seem to know that Prince is both funky and rocking, while Stina Nordenstam turns in a "Purple Rain" that sounds more like "Eraserhead."

Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra, on the other hand, is charming in a kind of late-night-talk-show-band-trying-their-damnedest way. Singer Becca Stevens channels Björk's urgency and earnestness without coming off like an American Idol on the excellent "Hyperballad," and Sullivan teases the arrangement of "Human Behaviour" with just glimpses of the original hook. But it's the 10-minute, skronk-tastic "Army of Me" that makes the -estra as compelling as the Björk- part.

 
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