It doesn't take braaaaains to enjoy the simple pleasures of a solid cover album, even when it's in the dicey realm of indie rockers covering classics.
If you're going to screw around with a classic, you better have a damn good reason to do so. Last year's The Bird Has Flown, a track-by-track indie-rock tribute album to the Beatles' immortal Rubber Soul, proved to us why Sufjan Stevens & Ted Leo are so vital, why the Donnas are disposable, and why it actually is possible to ruin an immortal classic like "In My Life" (thank you Ben Lee).
So, here comes The Indie Rock Cover Album of 2005, Attempt #2. Here, we have the soundtrack to humorous shoot-'em-up game Stubbs the Zombie. Indie acts tackle 12 classic rock songs from the '50s & '60s with -- oddly enough -- incredible results. The scariest part of this zombie soundtrack? It might be one of the better rock releases of the year.
What separates this from The Bird Has Flown is context. The Beatles' songs are iconic and timeless: you can listen to "In My Life" today and still be completely moved, just as putting "Drive My Car" on at a party will always generate some movement. With Stubbs, it's quite different. Today, it's highly doubtful that someone will be spinning the Penguins' "Earth Angel" whenever they're feeling melancholy -- but when given the Death Cab for Cutie seal of approval (and the band sounding like they're playing the slow-dance at your junior high prom), you not only see this song in a new light (and find out that some of these songs were really sad), you're also swept up in the total novelty of it all. It's a win-win situation.
Admittedly, some people do it better than others. The album's weakest song is the still-pretty-decent "Shakin' All Over" by upstarts Rose Hill Drive. The Flaming Lips' bizarre Disney-on-speed take of "If I Only Had a Brain" goes from quirky to weird to too-damn-weird, and then back to quirky again. There's nothing wrong with the Walkmen's turn on "There Goes My Baby", but it sounds the least like the original, if only that it sounds like a typical Walkmen song -- all swirly and lo-fi. Yet while these particular songs may not be classified as "highlights", they aren't bad by any means…
…leaving room for some truly inspired numbers. Ben Kweller's take on the immortal "Lollipop" is undoubtedly fun, yet it works because he remains totally faithful to the original, even getting the overlapping vocal parts of the Chordette's original down perfectly. Before you know it, you're running up to the Ravonettes' electro-rock take on "My Boyfriend's Back" and punky buzz-band Oranger delivering a deliciously campy and rocking version of "Mr. Sandman" (also a Chordette's original). Rogue Wave reinvents Buddy Holly's "Everyday" as a modern-day folk ballad with surprisingly powerful results (it feels like it could be a lost Nick Drake cover), Clem Snide cranks up the tempo and makes "Tears on My Pillow" actually sound happy (if you totally ignore the lyrics, that is), and Cake make "Strangers in the Night" sound better than anything off their last album. To cap things off, O.C. crooners Phantom Planet drop the sole original song on the compilation, the very aptly titled "The Living Dead", which actually pulls off the amazing feat of sounding like it could be in a real zombie movie (or even better, it could serve as an even better soundtrack to their Spike Jonze-directed video for "Big Brat", because this one has a bit more terror in its blood).
The soundtrack to Stubbs the Zombie may not move you, change your life, or make you undead. It will, however, prove to be one of the best indie releases of 2005, as well as the best possible music to kill zombies to.