Review: ‘War Child presents Heroes,’ Good music for a great cause

02.24.09 9 years ago

AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Today’s big CD release is “Music from the 3D Concert Experience,” the soundtrack to the Jonas Bros. movie, which opens in theaters this Friday. It’s a lock to come in at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart that comes out next Wednesday. Other releases of note include new albums from Lamb of God, Chris Isaak, Company of Thieves, B-Real and Green River Ordinance.

However, we consider the most interesting release out today to be “War Child Presents Heroes.” Big names such as Beck, Lily Allen, Franz Ferdinand, Duffy, Estelle and TV on the Radio remake songs from legendary artists such as The Clash, Bob Dylan, U2, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen at the request of the superstar. Can you imagine if you’re Duffy and Paul McCartney picks you to remake “Live and Let Die?” I’d love to hear that phone call, if it ever took place. More likely, his people called her people or the label served as the intermediary. A portion of the proceeds from album sales goes to War Child, a humanitarian organization which provides assistance to children affected by war. According to War Child, 66% of all casualties of war are children.

As is always the case with these hodge podge collections, some entries fare better than others. In some cases, the artists go for slavish re-creation instead of reinvention: for example, The Hold Steady’s remake of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” sounds like any cover band paying tribute to their idol, same with Franz Ferdinand’s fairly faithful rendering of Blondie’s “Call Me.” In other cases, the original is so strong that the acolyte’s version pales in comparison. Estelle’s mannered cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

The more interesting takes are when the artist taking on the original has a compelling voice or version of his or her own. For example, Duffy’s cover of “Live and Let Die” takes the song in a sultry direction, rather than follows McCartney’s bombastic original. It more resembles how Shirley Bassey would have sung “Live & Let Die” if that had been her James Bond theme instead of “Goldfinger.” Similarly, Scissor Sissors completely reinvent Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand.” In other cases, the artist takes the original and adds their own twist: Rufus Wainwright’s dramatic voice compliments his medley of songs from Brian Wilson’s ‘Smile” beautifully. Wilson’s orchestrations (aided by Van Dyke Parks) are so lush and beautiful and Wainwright’s mellifluous voice floats beautifully on top of them. It’s hard to think of many people who can take on Iggy Pop, but the outrageous Peaches does him proud on “Search and Destroy.” TV on the Radio’s rhythmic take on Bowie’s “Heroes” is growing on us… a lot.

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