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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

“War Child” comp features superstar pairings

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

<i>PHOTO from Internet Source</i>

PHOTO from Internet Source

Since “We are the World” and “Live Aid,” the idea of music as a force to raise both money and awareness for issues of great international import has gained traction. The “War Child Heroes” compilation provides a slightly new twist on an old idea of a compilation of covers.

The artists whose songs are covered selected the artists who performed the covers. Featuring pairings like Beck covering Bob Dylan, Peaches covering Iggy Pop, Duffy covering Wings, and Hot Chip covering Joy Division, the album’s theme of placing faith in the next generation is exemplified by the idea of established artists placing their artwork in the hands of the up and coming artists of today.

The opening Beck track, “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat,” adds some of that “Guero” Dust Brothers stomp to Dylan, and it’s a solid cover. Beck recreates the same tune with an entirely different emphasis, using different phrasing to transform the track. No one is going to out-Dylan Dylan, but at least Beck approaches the track on his own terms, and it’s an interesting take.

Covering Bowie has obvious pitfalls, especially with a track like “Heroes.” TV on the Radio kill it, though, bringing their signature sound to a fantastic rendition that could be Bowie in Brooklyn. This title track is rightfully the standout of the album, proving Bowie’s impeccable taste as well as TV on the Radio’s chops, and the percussion-heavy track glides along, building to a climax and never disappointing.

Less successful are some of the pop covers. Lily Allen, with an assist from The Clash’s Mick Jones, turns in a completely defanged version of “Straight to Hell.” In slowing down the track, Allen loses the urgency, Strummer’s righteous fury, and contempt in the original, which is unfortunate. The muddled result, from Allen’s careful enunciation and even tone, disappoints. The same goes for Duffy’s “Live and Let Die” cover, which lacks the vocal interest or dynamics of the original.

There are some obvious pairings. Having The Kooks cover the Kinks’ “Victoria” was a poor choice and goes on far too long, but giving The Hold Steady a Springsteen tune (“Atlantic City”) is like shooting fish in a barrel. Thankfully Craig Finn reaches beyond a note-for-note cover, and it’s not a bad showing. The same goes for Peaches covering her former duet partner, Iggy Pop’s “Search and Destroy.”

There’s quite a bit more pep in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O taking on “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and the Blondie classic “Call Me,” well-rendered by Franz Ferdinand. On the whole, the album is fun, a solid compilation well worth more than one listen. The majority of the songs are solid, recognizable but novel and containing demonstrable talent.

While that makes for a great CD, there’s a disconnect between the songs and the album’s mission. The album artwork features crayon-drawn rifles and each track name and artist printed on a silhouette of a bullet rendered in a Crayola color. However, the front of the album is just tagged as, “The Ultimate Covers Album” and only in tiny print on the lower left corner of the back of the album is there any mention of the very worthy War Child project, which seeks to help children affected by conflicts across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

There’s something almost cynical about the charity album in this incarnation; the idea that consumers can be sold charity, or a good cause, in a slickly designed package that presents consciousness as hip, as a commodity that can be bought. Sure, the compilation is a great listen, and a worthwhile buy. But I hope that listeners consider supporting the organization itself, or becoming more involved. A vague “awareness” of the issues involved in war zones furthered through commerce does a disservice to the notion of charity and the public interest. So while the compilation is worth a listen on its own merits, it’s somewhat disheartening that War Child created it as a major outreach effort. To find out ways you can support War Child, regardless of your musical taste, visit