The world is full of bad ideas. Indeed, the history of popular music is probably more thoroughly stocked with bad ideas than most other sectors of postmodern culture. From nü metal, to smooth jazz, to AC/DC getting Axl Rose to replace Brian Johnson, popular music regularly exudes very bad ideas. You can see how it can happen: a few publicists have been up all night doing blow and drinking Jägermeister in the dungeon of some foul club in Los Angeles, when one wild-eyed guy looks at the other with an epiphany burning in his heart and says, “Dude! Let’s introduce Avril Lavigne to that guy from Nickelback! Wouldn’t that be awesome?!” Like original sin or nuclear weapons, once bad musical ideas are unleashed upon the world, there is no going back and we just have to cope with the consequences. Hungarian Noir: A Tribute to the Gloomy Sunday may not be as bad as Drowning Pool or that music video where Avril Lavigne tries to appropriate J-pop, but it is pretty unpleasant nonetheless.
So the idea, as far as I can tell, goes like this: the classic song “Gloomy Sunday” made famous by Billie Holiday was originally penned by a Hungarian composer. The song gained momentum in Hungary during the 1930s, but the bummer lyrics inspired lots of people to jump off of bridges and such. Since that time the song, in spite of being covered by just about everyone ever, has acquired a reputation for being cursed. Anyone who plays it, listens to it, or thinks about it, will feel compelled to drink bleach or something equally unpleasant. How, then, to lift this wretched curse? Get a bunch of Hungarian musicians to do a whole album of covers of this already heavily covered song and then, presto! The curse is lifted. The curse may or may not be lifted, but we are still left with one of the most tedious musical exercises that I have come across in some time.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Hungarian Noir: A Tribute to the Gloomy Sunday is the fact that I kind of like the song “Gloomy Sunday”, or at least I used to. Hungarian Noir offers variations on the song in different styles and genres, but the repetitiveness of the song itself becomes dull very quickly. The melody, the lyrics, and the overall vibe, run out of steam about half-way through a first listen. By the end of the compilation the listener, far from being depressed, is elated by the simple fact that she does not have to listen to “Gloomy Sunday” anymore. Being obligated, as I was while writing this review, to listen to Hungarian Noir over and over again becomes down-right excruciating. It will be quite a while until I can listen to any version of “Gloomy Sunday” again without rolling my eyes.
The bands and musicians on Hungarian Noir are clearly very accomplished musicians and I enjoyed some, if not all, of the styles on display here; however, I kept thinking to myself, “this band would be cool of they were playing anything other than “Gloomy Sunday”. Maybe there are major “Gloomy Sunday” enthusiasts out there that will be able to pick two or three favorites from this compilation, but I would be surprised if even a die-hard “Gloomy Sunday” partisan could get through Hungarian Noir without being bored silly by the compilation’s end. Ominously, the press release suggests that a second Hungarian Noir: A Tribute to the Gloomy Sunday may be in the works. All I can say is, please don’t.