[CD Review] Various Artists, 'New Tales to Tell: A Tribute to Love and Rockets' (Arsenal/Justice Records)

It’s a testament to the simple clarity and integral weight of Love and Rockets that this tribute album is as good as it is. Most people couldn’t be bothered to bring more than their side project, and the bands that did show up either phoned it in or are Better Than Ezra. There are plenty of tracks that just try to mimic the electro-drone, T-Rex-meets-Joy-Division glam Goth with which Love and Rockets moped through the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and those tracks—like the ones by Puscifer (a side project of Tool front man Maynard James Keenan) and Blaqk Audio (a side project of a couple of members of AFI)—are good, but ultimately redundant.

Black Francis, himself away from the reunited Pixies, starts the record with a cool interpretation of “All In My Mind” that takes the haunting quality of the original and makes it into catchy, nervous pop with a sweet little guitar line. Iranian producer Dubfire (himself half of Grammy-winning house act Deep Dish) takes the obscure track “I Feel Speed” and turns it into even more of a dark dance-floor groove. The Flaming Lips’ version of “Kundalin Express” sounds like they spent about five minutes on it, weirding out the vocals and mashing the keys down so they sound like a train.

The better tracks stray from the expected sound. Sweethead, which features Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and Siouxsie-sounding singer Serrina Sims, make sultry, Hollywood rawk of “Life In Laralay.” Monster Magnet go the dark glam route on a song that just begs to be bigger and louder. Talent and effort may not jump right out at you, but the songs are still great. When Better Than Ezra are covering the band’s biggest hit, “So Alive,” and it’s still a good compilation, that’s saying something.

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