A covers album? So soon? Can this possibly be a good sign?
Angie Aparo first popped up on the radar with the release of his Arista Records debut, The American, back in 2000. The distinction pf being Aparo’s first-ever album, however, belongs to the 1995 indie release, Out of the Everywhere. (Note to completists: the two albums share only one song: “Wonderland”.)
Tours with folks ranging from Matchbox20 and Edwin McCain to Evan and Jaron and Athenaeum helped raise his profile to a certain extent, but Aparo still didn’t end up as anything resembling a household name. That having been said, however, he still managed to end up with a cult following in the Southeast that trades tapes of his live performances as if he were a one-man Grateful Dead.
It’s hard to determine from online sources if Aparo has been released from the Arista roster or not, but, at the very least, he’s taken the indie route once more with his latest album, Weapon of Mass Construction. Let’s be realistic, though; if he’s releasing the follow-up to his major label debut independently, then said debut was probably also his major-label swan song.
Weapon is a collection of covers with two new, original songs thrown in for good measure. Now, to be offering up a covers album this early in his career, well, let’s just say that it doesn’t exactly bode well for regular releases from Aparo in the future. The Covers Album Gambit is generally a maneuver pulled by artists who are in the autumn of their careers. It’s a move usually performed either to stall their label while trying to find their creative muse, or it’s done simply as a way to put out new product and avoid hearing someone say, “And that’s the full 15 minutes, then! Time, please!” In this case, it may be a little bit of both.
Still, it’s best to at least make an attempt at avoiding thoughts like, “Oh, dear, it’s Duran Duran’s Thank You all over again,” or perhaps, “Has Simple Minds’ Neon Lights taught us nothing?” (Please feel free to insert a comment about your own least-favorite covers album here as well; God knows these aren’t the only two out there.)
On the Aware Records website, Aparo takes precisely two sentences to sum up Weapon, explaining that “some (of the songs on the album) I have performed over the last few years and have become attached to; others are songs that have kept me company when times got lonely. The opportunity to record them, as well as two new original songs, has been a moving experience.”
Aparo’s choices in covers range from the popular to the obscure to the slightly surreal, with the occasional foray into territory where, when you see the song title and contemplate it for a moment, you can sort of imagine him pulling off a credible cover, but not really. The album’s leadoff track is definitely one of those you’re not quite sure about: Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box”. Aparo chooses not to rock out with the song but, rather, to slow it down a bit and make it more of a dirge, offering a dark croon rather than Layne Stanley’s growl from the original version.
Aparo has a natural vocal range that varies remarkably, and, with the help of vocoders and other studio tools, he manages to adjust and expand it even farther. On “Nature’s Way”, originally done by Spirit, Aparo handily makes the track his own. Perhaps it’s because the song is one of the less instantly recognizable numbers on the album, but if someone suggested that it was an outtake from The American, there’d be no particular reason to disbelieve them.
Elton John’s “Rocket Man” is a track Aparo has regularly covered in concert, and, when he wraps his voice around it, shorn of all vocal effects and accompanied only by acoustic guitar, it’s like Elton and Bernie wrote it for Aparo to sing all along. The effect remains the same on this studio version.
“Nazis on My Radio” is one of the two originals on the album; despite the almost-punk-sounding title, it’s a bouncy little two-and-a-half minutes of pop. It’s promptly followed by a cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, which is surely one of the more ironically-titled songs of all-time. From a sequencing standpoint, this is the biggest flaw of the album. Aparo does a fine Young impression on the track, and it’s a strong cover. So strong, in fact, that virtually any memory of “Nazis on My Radio” is lost in its wake; it took several spins of Weapon to even be able to remember what the song sounded like.
John Lennon’s “Imagine” has been covered so many times, not to mention the fact that the original version has been played ad nauseum, that you wouldn’t think the world would particularly need another take on the track. You’d pretty much be right. Aparo’s version is straightforward, but, nice though it is, it doesn’t add a thing to the song. The mere concept of following a John Lennon cover with a song by a bunch of Beatle wannabes is a bit whimsical, but, y’know, damned if it doesn’t work absolutely perfectly. This placement makes Oasis’s “Champagne Supernova” seem positively epic in nature and brings out a surprising feeling of depth to the song, despite its mostly nonsensical lyrics
Next up is Aparo’s version of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right to Party”, with musical backing seemingly courtesy of Casio. Aparo’s vocals are reminiscent of John Mayer and Dave Matthews on the cover, and, though it’s worth a laugh or two, it holds up surprisingly well on repeat listenings.
“Rotten”, the album’s only other original, is, despite the company it keeps, arguably the best track on the album, with slide guitar from the George Harrison School of Licks, a soaring chorus, and as fine a spotlight for Aparo’s range as anything else on the disc. It bodes well for the future, if Aparo can manage to put out an album’s worth of tracks like this one.
Weapon of Mass Construction comes to a close with an obviously home-recorded duet between Aparo and his mother on the folk standard, “The Water Is Wide”. Call me a softie, but there’s something very real and touching about this track. It has nothing to do with the quality of recording (which isn’t up to the rest of the album’s standards), or even the quality of the performance (which is just okay). No, it is merely the idea of picturing Angie Aparo and his mother, huddled around a microphone, Aparo strumming the guitar and harmonizing with his mom.
You just can’t help but smile.