Since probably about 2003, Three One G records has been teasing their planned tribute album to The Birthday Party, a follow-up of sorts to the Queen tribute that the label did some time ago. In theory, it’s a pretty good idea, taking one of the scariest bands of all time and having them reinterpreted in ways that could be construed as, possibly, even more scary. Or if not more scary, at least more pummeling. Really, any artist with ties to Three One G can be both deafeningly loud and outright frightening, whilst maintaining an artsy avant garde sensibility. That said, paying tribute to The Birthday Party seems a natural choice, as Nick Cave’s rowdy Aussie noisemakers played an important role in shaping the face of art punk today.
The finished product, now that it’s finally here, offers 18 unique takes on the post-punk heroes’ legendary works, almost all of which sound perfectly natural in the hands of those doing the interpretations. And yet, despite the general theme of “loud,” each band manages to put its own spin on The Birthday Party, starting with The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, who open the record with a lively and chaotic take on “Pleasure Heads Must Burn,” a Peel-session only track. Unfortunately, Das Oath doesn’t quite do as successful a job with “The Friend Catcher,” and T Cells, despite putting their own spin on “Deep in the Woods,” don’t necessarily succeed in keeping it as interesting as the original. Nonetheless, Cattle Decapitation’s death metal version of “Sonny’s Burning” and Ssion’s electro-pop no wave cover of “Nick The Stripper” more than make up for the earlier pair of snoozers.
The most successful offerings on Release the Bats are those that manage to balance the original’s integrity with each band’s individual perspective. For instance, Les Georges Leningrad’s “Riddle House,” which rolls along on fuzz and drum machines rather than Rowland Howard and Tracy Pew’s rumbling and screeching. Celebration keeps fairly true to The Birthday Party’s “King Ink,” but with enough vocal and guitar effects to add a psychedelic sheen. Kill Me Tomorrow does likewise with their version of “Junkyard,” while Numbers dancepunks the fuck out of “Cry.”
As could have been expected, Release the Bats throbs and twitches, howls and jabs, keeping true to The Birthday Party’s spirit. However, each band, for the most part, offers enough vision and creativity to keep it a thoroughly interesting listen. Maybe not everything works as well as others, but knowing how hit-or-miss tribute albums can be, this collection is surprisingly solid.
The Birthday Party – Hits
Various Artists – Dynamite With a Laserbeam
The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower – Love in the Fascist Brothel
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.