[23 November 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Whenever a bunch of kids form a band, they start out playing cover versions of their favorite songs. In metal, that fondness for playing those old tunes never fades, even when a band becomes huge. Of course, Metallica played a very large role in popularizing the metal cover, their “Garage Days Revisited” b-sides on the 1984 Creeping Death single becoming as popular among fans as their original material at the time, which in turn led to such subsequent collections as 1987’s Garage Days Rerevisited and 1998’s Garage, Inc. Everywhere you look in the genre, somebody’s either playing a cover in concert, knocking out a Japanese bonus track or two, or contributing to a tribute album dedicated to a specific band. A quarter century after Metallica’s famous covers of Diamond Head and Blitzkrieg, the cover has become a staple of metal culture. While moving the genre forward, you must always show some appreciation for the past. And sometimes, a well-timed old-school cover can yield unexpectedly good results. Just ask Killswitch Engage, whose rendition of Dio’s “Holy Diver’ is more popular than any of their original songs.
The cover song has always played a prominent role in the music of Finnish stars Children of Bodom, who have been appending their albums with various eclectic selections since their debut album Something Wild. It’s gotten to the point where it’s become fun to see just what goofy selections guitarist/vocalist Alexi Laiho and his bandmates pull out on the next record. Loosely performed and with the intention of being either completely tongue-in-cheek or sincere, the songs are more often than not a fun little curiosity, worth a single listen, sometimes a small laugh, and that’s it. Aside from one or two tracks that might be worth sticking on the iPod, it’s the kind of stuff that you don’t really need to hear again.
Or so some of us might have thought. With six full-length albums now behind them, Bodom has amassed quite a collection of those notorious covers, and with metal labels never afraid of squeezing more cash out of their bands’ devoted fanbases, Spinefarm has taken it upon itself to swiftly put together a stopgap CD that culls an hour’s worth of cover tunes. Never mind the fact that every single Children of Bodom fan already has these bonus tracks in some way shape or form. At any rate, the end result is the 17-track Skeletons in the Closet, which more than anything else, leaves us wondering just why in the hell anyone would want to hear these performances again.
One thing that Laiho has going for him is the fact that he knows his ‘80s metal, and his choices of covers from that era are always interesting, not to mention eclectic. So it’s not surprising at all that the strongest tracks from Skeletons in the Closet stem from that era. The version of W.A.S.P.‘s 1984 high-octane classic “Hellion” is tremendous, arguably the most fitting cover Bodom has ever pulled off, the over-the-top approach of the original having set the template for Bodom’s raucous, energetic yet melodic sound. Completely unafraid to admit he loves the more pop-oriented, mousse-abused side of late-‘80s metal, Laiho and company tear through Poison’s staple “Talk Dirty to Me” and Scorpions’ “Don’t Stop at the Top” (the latter being an especially brave choice) with surprisingly strong results. However, the performance of Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” emphasizes groove over melody, which completely misses the strength of the entire song. Slayer’s “Silent Scream”, Sepultura’s “Mass Hypnosis”, and Suicidal Tendencies’ “War Inside My Head”, while faithful run-throughs, are hardly memorable.
The rest of the album ranges from mediocre to absolutely painful. The only good thing to say about the rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is that it’s performed with energy. Pat Benatar’s “Hell Is for Children” is given a metal treatment that might have worked if the performance weren’t so wooden. The Ramones’ underrated “Somebody Put Something in My Drink” is a good choice, but again, what we’re left with feels lazily tossed off. The First Edition’s The Big Lebowski fave “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” is a trainwreck from the start. And probably the best-known track on the album, Laiho’s intended savaging of Britney Spears’ “Oops!...I Did it Again” is completely devoid of humor, merely a karaoke-style cover with crunchy guitar and little else.
Curiously, the excellent cover of Alice Cooper’s “Bed of Nails”, which previously appeared on 2004’s Trashed, Lost & Strung Out EP, isn’t on the North American version of Skeletons in the Closet. That said, the inclusion of that track would not have come close to redeeming a collection that does the exact opposite of what it intended, making a talented band look like a bunch of unfunny hacks. Bodom completists will without question scoop this album up, but the rest of us will be happy sticking to their original material, thank you very much.