Date Posted: July 12, 2011
Print Edition: July 8, 2011
Tribute albums are typically pretty hit or miss. Either you’re so in love with an artist that you think it’s blasphemy to mess with them, or you are able to take a step back and have a healthy respect for a new artist’s interpretation of a classic.
Much of Buddy Holly’s work has entered the music world’s internal songbook. Some songs, like “That’ll Be the Day,” are so ingrained in our collective minds that redoing them is no more blasphemous than putting chocolate fudge on your vanilla ice cream. And who doesn’t like a little chocolate fudge? This album’s cocoa-y goodness comes in the form of Modest Mouse. Yes, Modest Mouse busts out a fiddle and uses it to pour their delectable brand of deliciousness all over a song that’s become so vanilla that it hurts. The result is interesting, and really, it promotes Modest Mouse more than it does Buddy Holly. The song, well known as it is, provides a point of comfort for the uninitiated listener to jump into a new artist. This isn’t a Buddy Holly song anymore – it’s Modest Mouse, through and through.
The album itself fails in its make-up. “That’ll be the Day” is the fourteenth track, “Peggy Sue” is the sixteenth, and so on. The most popular songs are back-loaded, rather than being placed near the front of the album to entice listeners. Journalistic integrity suggests listening to an album in its entirety, which is good or else this would be an extremely condensed view of the first two and a half tracks. The first song is “Dearest,” performed by the Black Keys. While they’re perhaps hotter performers than Modest Mouse these days, their take on the music is nothing revolutionary and sounds more like Buddy Holly than Black Keys – not the album’s greatest success.
The songs progress from there, and the album pairs artists with tracks that fit naturally with their sound. Track two is “Everyday,” performed by Fiona Apple and Jon Brion. These two don’t get much radio play, but in listening to this song, Apple could very well be the reincarnation of Buddy Holly, only with different plumbing. Again, not revolutionary. A nice tribute; perhaps some fodder to play during a concert for the classic-lovers, but nothing special enough to stand out on an album that could otherwise be a revolution for Buddy Holly’s musical legacy.
The choice of artists reflects the duality of the order of songs: Paul McCartney, Florence and the Machine, Cee Lo Green, She & Him, even Kid Rock. In other words, this isn’t a compilation album to pick up for the artists. They are diverse enough that most fans probably won’t have heard of all of them, or don’t care to listen to them all together. This album is a little too bipolar to be a great listen: each track has simply too different an approach to form a cohesive set of works. Despite that, the songs on their own are interesting – worth a listen for Buddy Holly fans, or for fans of the reinventing artists themselves.
Give the album a pass, but fork over the 99 cents on iTunes for your favourite picks.