“A change would do you good…I always knew it would.” Gang of Four, Damaged Goods.
As covered by The Hot Rats on Turn Ons, the refreshingly exciting covers record from Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey of the late great Supergrass.
The Hot Rats is something of a Supergrass swan song. A chance for the band to let their hair down after calling a day on their sparkling career. Granted, the record doesn’t feature former bassist and backing vocalist Mick Quinn, but it’s still packed full of the usual fun, charm and eccentricity that we’ve now come to expect from a Supergrass record. And it’s as joyful as it is touching.
Turn Ons sees the duo of Gaz and Danny give something back. Not to their fans, but to their heroes. It is a love letter. A thank you card. A doffing of their caps to the artists who inspired them. And boy is it inspiring. Well, it’s inspired me anyway.
In all, the selections are largely predictable to someone familiar with their previous work; Syd’s Pink Floyd, The Kinks, Bowie. In fact, aside from a brief nod stateside (a Who-tinged reworking of the Beastie Boys, crude takes on the Velvets and The Doors) The Hot Rats is an altogether British affair. So far, so Supergrass. All that seems to be missing from this very Supergrassy collective is a version of a Beatles tune, but have no fear, they knocked one of them out as a separate single as well. And if you’re expecting some Buzzcocks you’ll have to settle for the Pistol’s E.M.I – we can’t have it all our own way.
The song choices are daring, but never disrespectful. I’d previously thought that stone cold classic tunes such as The Cure’s Lovecats or Roxy Music’s Love is the Drug were borderline untouchable, but as The Hot Rats prove, it can be done and it can be done well. It isn’t patricularly complicated, they’re not trying to be clever. There is a low-fi, kinda ramshackle feel to the recordings which helps complement their humble intentions and is insanely good fun to boot.
The previously mentioned Lovecats is a blast. A raucous and scuzzy reworking which holds up well. On Damaged Goods they swap Gang of Four’s distorted scratchy tones for acoustic guitars but it’s no campfire sing along. There’s just as much energy and grit as you’d find in the Stones’ Street Fighting Man or Violent Femmes’ Add It Up. But The Hot Rats have a tender side too. Pink Floyd’s Bike is sprinkled with all the delight and playfulness that the song requires. And on The Kinks’ understated classic Big Sky, Coombes delivers a touchingly meaningful vocal. Amongst all the head in the clouds crashing and bashing is the songs pivotal passage: “when I feel, that the world’s too much for me, I think of the big sky, nothing matters much to me.” It’s a beautiful moment. One that appeals to the daydreamer within me.
I was initially surprised that Coombes and Goffey’s tastes seemed so staggeringly similar to mine. Not only in the selection of artists, but in the song choices too. If I had to choose just one Cure tune it would be The Lovecats. If I had to pick just one Elvis Costello it would be Pump It Up. Bowie’s Queen Bitch has long been a secret I’ve wanted to keep for myself but I cannot stake any claim. These songs are, after all, from a previous generation to my teenage musical revolution. So what part does my own musical upbringing play in my appreciation of all of this?
It’s simple really. Since my formative years of listening to Blur, Oasis and Supergrass I just can’t help but love the likes of Elvis Costello, David Bowie and The Cure. It was inevitable. So I guess in many ways you could argue that I don’t actually share musical taste with Coombes and Goffey at all. It’s more reasonable to say that along with the likes of Damon Albarn and the Gallagher’s, Supergrass helped to form my musical tastes, and fuck, you’d be right.
So where do The Hot Rats stand in the big bad world? How do they fit in? To tell you the truth, they couldn’t have made this at a more suitable time. Turn Ons is disposable. It isn’t to be taken too seriously. It is karaoke. It is jukebox. There are no underlying themes or transgressions. It is, therefore, iPod shuffle gold. In a world of X Factor instant gratification and mediocrity, The Hot Rats remind us that there is such a rich world of material out there for us to explore. But what is it about the cover version itself? Why the stigma within indie/rock circles? It never hurt The Beatles or the Stones. There seems to be a misguided conception today that to record a cover song is an admision of weakness. But I can only find strength in these here Turn Ons. And a lot of bands today could do a lot worse than to stop preening their own nonsense for five minutes and put a little effort into producing a heartfelt nod to one of their heroes. It wouldn’t mean that they’d be selling out. It’d just mean that, yeah, there were bands before with cracking songs, and if only, if only they could’ve written something as good…
If you’re interested in what Gaz’s up to next. Head linkwards for a taste of his debut solo LP “Here Come the Bombs” http://www.gazcoombes.com/2012/02/sub-divider/