CD Review of War Child - Heroes, Vol. 1 by Various Artists
Various Artists: War Child - Heroes, Vol. 1
Recommended if you like
Being guilted into
supporting a good cause
Label
Astralwerks
Various Artists:
War Child - Heroes, Vol. 1

Reviewed by James B. Eldred

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W
ar Child is a charity providing assistance to children in war-torn areas, both during and post-conflict. It's a noble cause, and probably an expensive one, which brings us to Heroes, a covers album put together by the organization to raise money and awareness. When you buy Heroes, you're supporting a good cause; it’s just a shame you're not really supporting good music.

Heroes is billed as a "unique and unprecedented collaboration between the biggest names in music history and today's hottest artists." That's a bold statement, but it’s really just a hyperbolic way of saying that the original artists were involved in choosing the songs covered and who covered them. That sounds like an awesome idea in theory, but in reality, it's actually pretty bland and predictable.

The Ramones (meaning Tommy and/or Marky Ramone, since they're the only classic Ramones left) stayed within NYC punk to pick the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for a cover of "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," Bob Dylan chose Beck, who was once called "the next Bob Dylan," to cover "Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat," and in the ultimate case of nepotism, Leonard Cohen chose his son Adam to perform "Take This Waltz." Other completely unsurprising picks include Iggy Pop picking Peaches for "Search and Destroy" and David Bowie choosing TV on the Radio for a cover of "Heroes," since both of those elder artists appeared on their choices’ albums in the past.

The best tracks on Heroes are the surprising ones. Hot Chip was picked to cover Joy Division's "Transmission" and they actually transform the track, taking it further into the dance/electronic realm with distorted vocals and minimalist keyboards. Lilly Allen also surprises with her take on the Clash's "Straight to Hell," which benefits from some backing vocals by Mick Jones. Wisely reworking the opening riff that is now more famous for being sampled in M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," Allen completely re-imagines the song, gives it a mellow dance groove and still keeps a little bit of the original’s bite and edge.

The Scissor Sisters deliver the best cover of the record, though, with their wicked take on Roxy Music's "Do the Strand." The original had a dance vibe to it, but the Scissor Sisters, doing what they do best, milk it for all its fabulousness, transforming the glam rocker into a gay disco anthem. It's much better than their frightening cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" from a few years back.

TV on the Radio also help to save the day with their cover of "Heroes," in which they take the Bowie classic and pump it full of their own trademark harmonizing, crazy beats and Wall of Sound production. It's another one that works because they weren't afraid to take the source material and do something new with it.

The rest of the artists on Heroes do the opposite, sticking so close to the source material that there's really no point. Estelle and Duffy go through the motions on their covers of "Live and Let Die" and "Superstition," as does Elbow with U2's "Running to Stand Still," the Like with Elvis Costello's "You Belong to Me," and especially the Hold Steady, with their boring as hell take on Springsteen's "Atlantic City."

Heroes is pegged as a "volume one," so hopefully the next outing will be a bit braver and wider in scope. There's nothing particularly awful about Heroes, but there's nothing really that great about it, either. It's hard not to recommend a charity album, especially since War Child is such a noble and well-respected organization doing important and life-changing work across the world. If you feel like supporting their cause then go to iTunes and download the tracks you like, and donate the difference in cash.

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