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"Copycat Killers" (Scat Records)
May 3, 2005
Rating: 7.1

Cobra Verde's reason for releasing a covers record is "the band just wanted to explore new hi-fi recording techniques by experimenting on other people's guinea pigs." In the wake of Guided By Voices' dissolution-- and the band's increased spotlight after 2003's Easy Listening-- it's difficult not to read that as a copout. Still, if you're in the mood for some glam-rock fun, Copycat Killers picks a diverse set of songs and pushes the band's sound into new territory.

Like many covers albums, there's some inspired reinterpretations, some predictable retreads of the band's influences, and some duds. The Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire" is a stunning surprise, transformed into a beatnik drum circle and injected with Nick Cave-level creepiness. It's the pop songs that raise eyebrows the highest, however, and not just for token kicks: Pink's "Get the Party Started" ducks the obvious rock potential for a stoned monster-mash shuffle (if that heavily-reverbed cough in the beginning doesn't get the point across, changing the words to "we'll be burning roaches you'll be kissing my ass" quashes that last bit of subtlety). Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" is the last song I expected the band to cover, and while the drums gallop a little harder, they stay reasonably close to the source material. Elsewhere, Hawkwind's "Urban Guerilla" gets the Motown treatment, and the Fall's "Dice Man" becomes the soundtrack to a chase sequence from "Hee Haw."

The later songs on Copycat Killers are less thrilling: The experimentation they bring to the pop tracks they cover is absent from songs closer to their style by the Troggs, Mott the Hoople, or, er, Leonard Cohen. Kicking some dust onto classics like "Teenage Kicks" would be preferable to the anemic by-the-numbers delivery here. Whether it's conscious or not, Cobra Verde send the message that the established rockers that influenced them directly are untouchable grails and pop/dance material is open to manipulation, and less worthy of reverence. Their take on "Temptation", which reduces New Order's electronic waves of bliss to a few acapella "doot doo's", proves otherwise (Is anyone in a band reading? Please, please, please, for the love of all that is holy, stop covering "Temptation." The original is note-perfect, and any attempts to diverge or get cute are just going to fall flat. Just ask Moby). But give Cobra Verde credit where it's due for pushing their boundaries on what easily could have been a tossed-off filler record-- and for having big record collections.

-- Jason Crock

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