Scarred For Life
Drawing Room Records
Albums of cover versions can be tricky blighters. You can get it right (“Pin ups”, “These foolish things”, “Through the looking glass”) where the artist finds new depths in old songs, enlightening an audience to their influences. On the other hand you can get it wrong (“Thank you”, “The spaghetti incident”) where the artist’s vision, taste and ambition doesn’t match their abilities. Are albums of covers cool these days? Well Weezer made one recently so maybe. But I’m glad that Medicine have released a new album of covers because it’s an absolute treat.
You may remember Medicine from back in the early 90s – they tried to out-goth Brandon Lee in “The Crow”, they made some great shoegazing records on Creation and American Records, then disappeared for a decade or so, only to return sounding just as vital, noisy and melodic as before. Times may change but the distinctive Medicine sound is still alive and well – Brad Laner’s layers of distorted guitars, dreamy vocals (here provided by their original vocalist Annette Zilinskas alongside Laner) and in your face drumming from Jim Goodall. It’s this sound that is smeared liberally across the eleven covers on “Scarred for life”.
Of course Medicine are no strangers to cover versions, back in the 90s they covered songs by Can, the Beach Boys and Neil Young and more recently a fine version of Devo”s “The day my baby gave me a surprise”. The mix of songs on this album is more eclectic than those choices – art rock from Slapp Happy, a soft rock gem from Fleetwood Mac’s back early 70s period, Neil Young’s gorgeous Buffalo Springfield song “Expecting to fly” (nothing to do with the Bluetones, sorry)…the originals would make a fine playlist on Spotify.
Whatever the song or the mood it becomes a Medicine song, such is their distinctive sound. Highlights are strewn throughout the album – the quirky country stumble of Judee Sill’s “Dead time bummer blues”, the rocking version of The Monkees’ “Listen to the band”… Each song is a gem. A real standout for me was their interpretation of the Jaynetts’ “Sally go round the roses” – a spooked girl group favourite of mine. Medicine dig into the song and highlight the “Tomorrow never knows” drum pattern and the “Taxman” bass riff which I had never noticed in the song before but they’ve always been there. Wow.
The tempo slows in the second half of the album – the personal and political lovers rock of Scritti Politti’s “The Sweetest Girl” is given a reverential treatment, substituting Robert Wyatt’s airy keyboard parts of fuzzed up guitars. “The green country” was the only song here I was unaware of, originally a piece of pastoral chamber jazz by the Jimmy Guiffre 3 from 1958, the original sounds like it could soundtrack an Oliver Postgate animation, and here Medicine are slow, quiet and respectful, an air of autumnal peace. Codeine’s “Pickup song” is translated to a living room piano and waves of distorted feedbacking guitars. Finally “Black Satin” – one of my favourite Miles Davis pieces, from his coked out funk masterpiece “On the corner” – gets a Medicine makeover, just as extreme as the original, wailing guitars, crazed handclaps and a groove you never want to stop.
Hopefully this album is a prelude to some new original material from Medicine. While we wait for that, there is plenty to enjoy on this album and based on this evidence they are firing on all cylinders. Medicine deserve to be remembered alongside Slowdive and Ride as one of shoegazings most original voices, still creating fantastic music. Long may they run.
You can purchase “Scarred for Life” at Drawing Room Records Bandcamp page and you can also discover more about them at these links
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob writes about music and other less important subjects at his blog A Goldfish Called Regret (https://agoldfishcalledregret.wordpress.com) and also creates podcasts for Goldfish Radio (https://m.mixcloud.com/robmorgan589) and hosts the Everything Indie Over 40 album listening parties over at @eio40LPParty
He never achieved his ambition of making a Sarah Record.
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