Generally speaking, covers albums aren’t supposed to be grand creative statements; often an artist is simply bragging about their record collection. It can be fun to parse out an artist’s tastes and influences by the songs they choose to cover. Ty Segall is no exception. His latest album, Fudge Sandwich (the title and cover both make me cringe – thanks, Ty) is a wonderfully eclectic collection of 11 cover songs that seem to run the gamut stylistically from classic rock to punk with a few stops in between.
As the album’s title seems to indicate, Fudge Sandwich is a bit of a mess – in a good way. Most of the songs are slathered in thick, distorted guitars, and those that aren’t are (like the best covers) retooled with arrangements that fly in the face of their original versions. Kicking off the set with War’s “Low Rider”, Segall eschews the Latin party funk of the original by slowing everything down to sludge, rendering it practically unrecognizable. His deconstruction of this 1975 classic allows him to put his stamp on it, turning a dancefloor anthem into a leering doom-metal oddity.
But occasionally Segall renders a faithful re-creation. While undoubtedly fuzzier than the original Spencer Davis Group version, his take on “I’m a Man” is surprisingly reverent, full of ’60s boogie and brash guitar solos. “Archangel Thunderbird”, the funky 1970 prog-rock nugget from German krautrock band Amon Duul is given a pretty standard – and highly entertaining – run-through. And while he replaces the piano with electric guitar crunch, Segall’s interpretation of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band classic “Isolation” matches the initial, soulful torture of the original, with startling results.
But mostly, Segall is content to tear down songs and rebuild them from scratch. The anthemic groove of Funkadelic’s “Hit It and Quit It” is sped up, with a wall of guitars added, emphasizing George Clinton’s killer riff. The hardcore punk of the Dils’ “Class War” is reinvented as earnest, mid-tempo folk-rock while subtracting none of the song’s original heft. Inversely, the psychedelic pop-rock of Neil Young’s “The Loner” is given a fast, noisy, punk rock kick in the pants.
One of the more ambitious moments on Fudge Sandwich is Segall’s take on the Grateful Dead classic “St. Stephen”. Largely forgoing the messy psychedelic majesty of the original, he turns a large chunk of it into guitar-heavy speed metal, slowing down only long enough to recreate the song’s original gothic middle section. It’s a compromise: Segall is reimagining the song in his own weird way while keeping certain parts intact.
Covers albums can often be construed as stopgaps in an artist’s creative process; a way to kick back and have fun while waiting for the compositional inspiration to hit again. It’s unknown if this notoriously prolific artist is in any kind of songwriting rut, but I have a feeling this fun diversion is just Ty Segall shifting gears while he waits for the rest of the world to catch up with him.