An Iconic American Band Covers One of the Same
It’s fitting that the seminal late ‘80s/early ‘90s American quasi-shoegazer band Black Tambourine have finally come out of retirement after some 20-plus years to release an EP, notwithstanding a set of songs they recorded for their 2010 eponymous retrospective record. It’s fitting, considering the entire Black Tambourine catalogue was issued initially either on seven-inch singles or compilations, so the fact that their first bona fide reunion statement is a four song extended play is rather apropos. What’s a bit surprising is that it’s a covers EP. A Ramones covers EP at that. This is a bit odd for two reasons. First of all, Black Tambourine, with their Jesus and Mary Chain-inspired guitar feedback squalor, sounds absolutely nothing like the Ramones, so it’s hard to see the direct line of influence. Second of all, Black Tambourine is fronted by a woman, Pam Berry, which makes the song selection choice rather interesting. Ramones songs are heavily masculine, and I have to admit it is a bit odd to hear a female voice singing a song like “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” with affection. Having a woman vocalize from the male point-of-view was exactly the same pitfall that Japan’s Shonen Knife fell into when they released a full Ramones tribute album last year: how can a woman pull off songs like these with any sort of sincerity? I don’t want to sound sexist, but I believe there are simply songs that women can’t render – just as there are songs not really meant for a male to come off singing, either. (Can you imagine a guy covering “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”?) Otherwise, the effect has to be either ironic or insincere for it to really work, which is not exactly the way you want to champion certain artists.
What generally saves the OneTwoThreeFour EP from being an egregious sidestep into the embarrassing is the fact that Black Tambourine takes these four Ramones songs, which aren’t exactly obvious choices for covers (a good thing), and puts their distinct spin on them. “I Want You Around” is full of fuzzy, distorted and thick guitars pushed well into the red, making the track seem indistinguishable from the original. “What’s Your Game” is sort of in the same vein, with the vocals buried under mountains of chiming, yet menacing guitars. “I Remember You” is almost a power surf rock anthem with the effects pedals pushed to the floor to a punishing effect. And then “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” is more of a spacey ballad, and definitely has the Black Tambourine stamp on it while retaining the DNA and spirit of the original material. So while the OneTwoThreeFour EP isn’t exactly a vital, “must have” addition to the comparatively small Black Tambourine catalogue (they issued only nine songs officially during their brief early run), it is the sound of a band having fun and feeling good to be back in the studio (or studios, as this was actually recorded on two different continents given that the band is now split between America and England). While that might disappoint fans expecting something more, the OneTwoThreeFour EP sounds like a band that never went on a rather lengthy hiatus, and they take some iconic material and make it their own. As a hopeful warm up to something more, and something more substantial, the OneTwoThreeFour EP marks the welcome return of a band that had been generally quiet for far too long.