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CD Review: Secret Machines – The Road Leads Where It’s Led

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(First posted on Mark Is Cranky):

To my ears, there’s nothing more delicious than a well-turned cover record. In particular, the cover that shows both the love for the original artist and a decent amount of invention. I don’t want to be wondering “hmmm, is this who I think it is?….or somebody else?” No, I want the original song firmly twisted out of shape.

Even better? I don’t want to be able to recognize the song at all (at least at first). Examples of this are the Cowboy Junkies slow and sultry take on “Sweet Jane”, Marc Ribot’s complete deconstruction of “The Wind Cries Mary” and Devo’s classic and otherworldly “Satisfaction”.

Now I’ve got to add to the list Secret Machines’ brilliant version of “Money (That’s What I Want)” (as if the Flying Lizards weren’t cool enough). Elongated and slowed to a crawl, the Bradford & Gordy Jr. classic is transformed from a pop music ode to the green stuff into a foreboding, ruminating dirge. This is somewhat like the 9 Beet Stretch project, where Beethoven’s 9th symphony is stretched (via software) to fill a twenty-four hour timespan. The original music i still there, it’s just been reshaped.

Secret Machines recasts Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” (gee, I wonder what Lester Bangs woulda said about this?) and Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” in a similar manner. Be prepared. These songs are nothing like the originals (and since Dylan sings his own tunes using completely different forms, nobody should be ‘offended’).

There are two Secret Machines originals on the EP (one swiped from a previous release) but, to be honest, they’re overshadowed by the covers. It’s not that they’re bad tunes (quite the opposite, in fact), it’s just that the intensity of the other material drowned ‘em out.

Secret Machines is really growing on me. They’ve got some interesting ideas going on and don’t seem to be afraid to take chances. I used to say that that was a rare thing, but I’m here to report that just maybe we’ve turned a corner.

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About Mark Saleski

  • http://sterfish.blogspot.com Sterfish

    I’ve been intrigued by Secret Machines ever since I heard their song “Nowhere Again.” Your review gives me all the more reason to finally pick up their album.

  • crooked spine

    The Secret Machines are one of the best bands out there today. Now Here Is Nowhere is a great CD. I caught one of their live shows last year, and they put on an awesome show.

  • http://halfbakered.blogspot.com mike hollihan

    Speaking of warped covers, look for Love Tractor’s remake of Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights.”

    Love Tractor were an instrumental band from Athens, GA, during the time of REM, The B-52’s, etc. Late in their career they added vocals. Their take on the Kraftwerk song is all-guitar, Sixties raga rock. Same hypnotic beat as the original, but in a completely different way.

    No one I play this for recognises the song until the winsome, reedy vocalist starts in with “Nee-on lights, pretty little nee-on lights….” And sometimes not even then!

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