When I heard that American Laundry Records would be releasing A Tribute To Repo Man, with a bunch of new artists recreating the original soundtrack, I was both elated and nervous. Would it match up to the power of the original, which featured the likes of Iggy Pop, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and Circle Jerks? Would the bands do the tracks justice? Would the bands chosen for the album even be worthy of it, or would this just be like those numerous and painful Punk Goes... compilations.
The only way to find out was to simply press play and see.
In order for this album to be successful (to me anyway), it would need to come on strong, with a flawless cover of Iggy Pop's "Repo Man," the theme to the film. It would need to embody the paranoia of Iggy's surreal cover, without being a tired rehash. And Nashville's Those Darlins proved up to the task, delivering their take on the original with a way that grabs hold of its paranoid feel from moment one. Polar Bear's cover of Black Flag's "TV Party" is just as perfect, holding onto the punk energy, and mindless fun of the original, updating the show titles to something more present day without coming across as a parody.
One of the tracks that I was more excited and afraid to hear was how Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra would handle Suicidal Tendencies thrash classic "Institutionalized," wondering if Palmer would go for its original fury or simply turning into something overly artsy. Once again, I had no reason to fear, as always Palmer delivers with a track that, despite having a horn section, is an aggressive and paranoid tune, displaying Palmer in a seriously intense light, maintaining both elements of the thrash-heavy nature of the original and Palmer's theatrical nature that has elevated her to being the true queen of the punk cabaret. While it can't quite compare with the original, taking on that song in any sort of serious fashion is a lofty goal, and Palmer's result needs to be applauded for its effort, integrity and sincerity.
Not every track hits the mark of 100 percent satisfaction for me. New York Rival's cover of the Circle Jerks is a bit overblown, with elements of death rock and without the energy of the original, while The Tellers version of the The Burning Sensations' "Pablo Picasso," itself a cover of Jonathan Richman's original is a lilting funky version that doesn't compare with the soundtrack version (although to be fully fair, the Sensations set their versions to "The Peter Gunn Theme" and really tore it up with a version that would be hard to match.
But for each of those tracks that don't quite hit the mark are mutiple tracks that do. Black Francis & Spanish For Hitchhiking produce a take on the Plugz' "El Clavo Y La Cruz" that is a drfting melodic improvement on the original, and Mike Watt & The Everyman's cover of Fear's "Let's Have A War," while light on the hardcore energy, takes a dirty organ-fueled approach that rocks hard.
The Suicide Dolls cover the Circle Jerks' "When The Shit Hits The Fan" (which the band performed as a lounge act in the film) in a fuzzed-out approach that sounds almost exactly how I'd expect the Vaselines to take on the punk classic, and Matthew Sweet's version of The Plugz' "Hombre Secreto" (A Spanish Cover of "Secret Agent Man") is fun and satisfactory, while Moses Coltrane's delivery of Juicy Bananas' "Bad Man" is another track that goes beyond the original, becoming an even more bad ass cruising song than the original - and that is no mean feat.
"Reel Ten," by The Plugz, which closed out the original soundtrack, always seemed like an afterthought, as does Weekend's cover on the tribute. Weekend has turned it into a dark dreamy soundscape with a big lush sound. It's not bad for what it is, but like the original, I tend to skip past it and back to front, to catch the theme once again.
At its whole, Tribute is nowhere near as good as the original - but how could it be? The original was influential and virtually perfect - why else would it merit a tribute? Attempting to recreate a masterpiece is difficult because of the fact that the original is a masterpiece in the first place. It's a lofty aspiration that will ultimately pale in comparison. One's only hope is to match up in a way that's not embarrassing, and on Tribute the effort is a worthy one, not at all lacking. It's not a matter of "At least we tried," so much as it's "I'm glad we tried, because we made a damn good record."
1. "Repo Man" - Those Darlins
2. "TV Party" - Polar Bear Club
3. "Institutionalized" - Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra
4. "Coup d'Etat" - New York Rivals
5. "El Clavo Y La Cruz" - Black Francis & Spanish for Hitchhiking
6. "Pablo Picasso" - The Tellers
7. "Let's Have A War" - Mike Watt & The Secondmen
8. "When The Shit Hits The Fan" - The Suicide Dolls
9. "Hombre Secreto" - Matthew Sweet
10. "Bad Man" - Moses Coltrane
11. "Reel Ten" - Weekend
Release Date: September 8, 2012
Also check out the inspiration for the tribute: