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Shivaree

Tainted Love

Mating Calls and Fight Songs

(Zoe; US: 31 Jul 2007; UK: Available as import)

There are several clues that Shivaree’s latest isn’t your usual collection of treacly love songs and ballads—not that the group is prone to that sort of thing anyway. First, there’s the cover art that overflows with skulls, drugs, guns, bondage, and wolves—with pregnant singer Ambrosia Parsley standing like a beatific icon in the midst of it all. And of course, there’s the name Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs; it hardly sounds like the kind of thing that will feed the playlists of the local easy listening station. But for pure double-take power, you don’t have to go any further than the songwriters to whom Parsley and company pay tribute.


Ike Turner, R. Kelly, Michael Jackson, Lead Belly, Rick James, Phil Spector, and more—they’re all songwriters, sure, but they’d also make one heck of a prison band. Showing a perverse sense of humor, Parsley picks love songs by men who, at best, lack even moderately evolved concepts of romance, or who, at worst, belong on a list of sex offenders. So, as you might expect from an album where a woman tackles the songs of such men, Shivaree don’t treat their source material with much reverence.


A few tracks on Tainted Love manage to retain, at the very least, the spirit of the originals. Chuck Berry’s “I Wanna Be Your Driver” and Rick James’ “Cold Blooded” sound like a Ministry tribute band got ahold of them, but they maintain an insistent, sex-driven rhythm. R. Kelly’s cascading lyrical style remains intact throughout “Half On a Baby”, fitting surprisingly well with Parsley’s breathy vocals. Lead Belly’s “Good Night Irene” plays things fairly straight, adding funereal organ to the mix.


Overall, though, Parsley’s line of attack (and “attack” is a good word) towards these songs is to deconstruct them, to take the piss out of them (no R. Kelly pun intended). Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” loses the original’s glittery momentum in favor of a wispy, burbling arrangement. David Allen Coe’s “Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)” (made popular by Tanya Tucker), sounds about as inviting as a field of stones with its harsh electronic sound effects. Ike Turner’s “My Heart Belongs to You” wobbles under a woozy brass band vibe. Mötley Crüe’s “Looks That Kill” sounds like a cross between a James Bond theme and a second-tier lounge standard.


There’s a sense of fun here, and it’s one to be admired, even if you wish Shivaree had worked a sense of commentary into their reworkings. In the end, though, little of Tainted Love feels like it has much staying power. Once you get past the novelty of the group’s radical rearrangements, how often are you likely to listen to them? Even the best tracks here fail to match Shivaree’s best original work so far, making this feel like an interesting diversion, but not something that will be included in discussions of the band’s continued improvement.

Rating:

Andrew Gilstrap is a freelance writer living in South Carolina, where he's able to endure the few weeks each year that it's actually freezing (swearing a vow that if he ever moves, it'll be even farther south). Aging into a fine curmudgeon whose idea of heaven is 40 tree-covered acres away from the world, he increasingly wishes he were part of a pair of twins, just so he could try being the kinda evil one on for size. Musically, he's always scouring records for that one moment that makes him feel like he's never heard music before, but he long ago realized he needs to keep his copies of John Prine, Crowded House, the Replacements, Kate Bush, and Tom Waits within easy reach.


Tagged as: shivaree
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3 Mar 2005
Ultimately, Shivaree never quite transcends nostalgia for the older and unduly neglected pop-culture forms by which it's clearly inspired.
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