Before Flammable: Tribute to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the only band I'm aware of that had covered the funky monks was All Saints, with their execrable 1998 version of "Under the Bridge".
Their crime was one of missing the point: one of the two heavily overplayed songs of the Chili Peppers' breakthrough 1992 Blood Sugar Sex Magik
disc, "Under the Bridge" spoke of pain, despair, and drug addiction--something the airbrushed pop tarts couldn't exactly pull off convincingly by sticking to their usual heavily produced harmonies.
That's the challenging thing about reinterpreting someone else's music. It's not about imitating the original, or just bending lyrics to suit your style. It's about finding a theme in the original, drawing it out, and building your own voice on top of the framework. The Chili Peppers know this--they've successfully covered Jimi Hendrix, Iggy and the Stooges, and Stevie Wonder, to name a few--and All Saints clearly didn't.
Listening to Flammable: Tribute to the Red Hot Chili Peppers
, I realized that there are others who need to learn All Saints' lesson. The first and last tracks illustrate how wildly uneven Flammable
is. Owl's take on "Behind the Sun" extends its already mellow flavor and wraps a layer of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" trippiness around the original's spacey lyrics. The result is a bubbly joy you normally wouldn't associate with the Chili Peppers' testosterone-laced funk. On the other end of the spectrum (and the disc), George Sarah's "Me and My Friends" samples the opening riff a few times, then launches into a maddeningly generic techno grind that uses exactly none of the rest of the song. Why it's on a Chili Peppers tribute album when 99% of it is unrecognizable is beyond me.
"Under the Bridge" is here of course, painfully overwrought by the Solomon Burke Jr. Project. I like Burke's voice, but when he works so hard at sounding heartfelt, it's like Céline Dion deliberately
over-emoting, if you can imagine such a thing. Then again, the original's power comes from it being so personal, based on Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis's struggle with the same heroin addiction that killed his best friend and bandmate Hillel Slovak; I'm not sure many people could pull it off.
With the exception of Tavu's decidedly unfunky handling of the decidedly funky "The Power of Equality" (where no amount of screaming helps bring it closer to Kiedis's moral outrage) the rest of the disc ranges from the adequate to the exemplary. The latter compliment I happily bestow on Gringo Floyd's "Scar Tissue" and Capsule's "Sexy Mexican Maid." "Maid" is one of my favorite of the Chili Peppers' special brand of perverse love songs. With the help of some DJ wizardry, original "Sexy Mexican Maid" hooks are morphed into a new soundscape that only loosely follows the original's structure. The original elements are all there, though: the lustful lyrics sung with romantic longing, describing events in clear violation of an acceptable employer-domestic relationship, but sung with some saucy extra yearning by Capsule vocalist Laura Derby. The added frisson
of girl-girl hijinks ups the naughtiness factor in an already naughty song, preserving the Chili Peppers' flavor while making it an unmistakable Capsule performance. Now that's a real tribute.