There’s a theory (ok, it’s my theory, but let’s pretend universality) that Cobra Verde and Yo La Tengo are flip sides of the same band. Or, at the very least, Cobra Verde and Yo La Tengo are twin bands separated at birth. They both have loyal audiences and their music doesn’t seem to translate beyond that crowd, no matter how much it should have by now. You know if you deign to ask the vague question of a relative stranger, “What music do you listen to?” and they mention either band, they have a good record collection. They both started within eight years of the other (I didn’t say this theory was tight). Now, with Cobra Verde’s Copycat Killers release, both bands have very respectable cover records out. (I know, ya’ll think I’m brilliant.)
That’s right, Cobra Verde has finally released a covers CD. It’s certainly an expected moment from this tough collection of bikers and bar-thugs-with-a-heart-of-gold (my imagination again, although they probably are those things). Cobra Verde has always seemed to exude that attitude of going beyond merely a cover song and needing to get a whole bunch of renditions out at once. This has never been a band to do things half-assed. Their choices for covers supports their all-or-nothing mentality: Hawkwind, Leonard Cohen, The Undertones, and Pink, among others. This sounds like a joke on paper but anyone even remotely familiar with Cobra Verde will know that while the band would never take themselves too seriously, they also are nothing if not unconditionally real.
Like Yo La Tengo’s 1990 release, Fakebook, what Cobra Verde’s Copycat Killers is is mostly what it is not. It is not a waste of time. It is not excessive. It is neither ironic nor insincere. It is not a filler record. To get back to the positive, Copycat Killers is the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of the jazz tradition of covers. Covers in rock tend to be needless, a way for a band to have fun and charge fans for the mediocre output. Cobra Verde would never do that. There is nothing on here that is astounding but it all sounds great. You can live without it but with it you are that much more cool. “Teenage Kicks” will never be done better than the Undertones did, but Cobra Verde at least pay it respect in their version. “Get the Party Started” was played until people started rumbling in the streets out of mad frustration, but Cobra Verde find the nasty edge that was always in the song and sink their teeth into it until it bleeds. Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” sounds like Brian Eno and Fela Kuti got a hold of it and made Bryan Ferry sing lead. It’s a beautiful thing.
This isn’t a showy record. This is something for all of the record collector geeks out there in the world. It’s a quiet (albeit loud and raucous) pleasure. It’s a celebration of song by one of the more passionate rock bands out there. Most of all, what Cobra Verde has done (besides being unafraid to take on the evil inherent in twin Yo La Tengo) is to lay out a disc that will cause any owner of it to trap people in their homes to listen to one more cover. Cobra Verde has the power. Let go and let them wield it all over your begging ears. Original rock records rarely sound as good as Cobra Verde has made a bunch of covers sound. They have made it impossible to be disappointed.