The tribute album is certainly a many-headed beast, to drop a cliché on y'all. I'm not sure I even own any wholly satisfying tribute album. As a matter of a fact, I'm not so sure any even exist. There are some fine and dandy ones out there but they are generally very flawed, only shining through on a couple of tracks. Tributes to Mingus, Gram Parsons and Skip Spence have their moments as do a few of the John Zorn curated tributes to folks such as Burt Bacharach, Serge Gainsbourg and Dave Brubeck. In a case such as the latter, I may never live long enough to ever want to hear Brubeck perform Blue Rondo Al A Turk again, but to hear Ruins tear through it is both amusing and fierce. Which, I guess, is the best you could hope for from one of these, I feel, doomed-from-get-go projects. But so many fail so gloriously. And then, to make it even more interesting, there is the prospect of toasting a "modern" musical act. Now, I know bands all over the place immediately jumped on the Beatles/Stones train as their popularity bloomed and I've seen countless shitty comps of no-name bands reaming their way through said bands material at countless garage sales and flea markets. A lot of those records really suck. Don't get me wrong; I'm not trashing the concept of the cover song. Well, not completely, or not yet, but to just throw a buncha songs at a buncha bands merely for the sake of a "tribute" is pretty much a bad idea. But then, oh it gets better, to cover an entire album from start to finish ala Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (and we all know how well that worked). You can't really set some silly number of years before a tribute is appropriate in Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame style, but Low? Now, here's another don't get me wrong. I Love Low. They are truly a monumental musical discovery for me as far as music from the last 20 years go (cheers Grant!). And they themselves can do a mean cover here and there (Blue Christmas anyone? Damn!). But I feel a "tribute" by a bunch of basically no-name artists (or any artists) is a bit premature. Just as I feel the recent Will Oldham (another personal favorite) tribute is, and any other of the countless barrage of tribs to ‘newer' acts. Maybe the Sonic Youth one can slip through (although none of the tracks I heard were very good) but don't even get me started on those fucking string quartet tributes (goddamn you Apocalyptica!).
Ok. Deep breath. This Low tribute is pretty fucking boring. It's a beginning to end run through of their debut, I Could Live in Hope. It's bland as hell and really doesn't even shine enough to get itself into the category of passable comps to use for mix tapes. The majority of the groups on here just rehash the first Low album, doing so in a way lacking any flavor, any blood flow, and without any real reason to ever play through this again. There is barely any effort, as far as I can tell, put forth by these bands to contribute something of their own to the songs. They're pretty much straight reads but with much less emotion than Low put forth originally. Listening to a Low album is akin to walking in the cold, dark and rain, to sitting in a big empty room and waiting for an echo, to gathering up the dim bliss and feeling a little guilty too. I don't really get any of that here. Had most of these bands done something with these songs it might be okay, but to lazily strum through with the same guitar tones and add emotionless vocals is a waste of our time. It's only a tribute if you consider the MTV Music Video Awards Lifetime Achievement award something to be proud of.
I've never heard of most of these bands. Now, this could very well be a shortcoming of my own, but either way, they ain't doin' shit for these songs. One of these bands, The Strugglers, do mix it up a bit with their version of Cut, but they just make it sound like an upbeat Smog song, totally killing one of the darker moments on the original album. It sounds OK, and far surpasses most of the others but that isn't saying a lot. Mark Kozelek is always good to listen to and his contribution is basically the one saving grace here. A few of the others come across as not completely pointless or essentially harmless but for the most part I just find myself shaking my head as I play through this disk. I've been listening to this for about two weeks now and have yet to find a reason for using all the resources put forth to produce this thing. Granted, Low deserve all the kudos you can hand ‘em, maybe more even, but in an instance like this, a thank you after a show or a loaned copy of one of their albums to an unenlightened friend would be much more fitting.
- Adam Richards | 2004-11-05