REVIEW: Various Artists, Tribute for the Masses

Various Artists, Tribute for the Masses- Sean Eric McGill

REVIEW: Various Artists, Tribute for the Masses (1500 / A&M)

- Sean Eric McGill

I would love to see the size of the stick 1500 Records used to beat people away from the door when they announced they were accepting acts for Tribute for the Masses, a tribute album dedicated to Depeche Mode. You would be hard pressed to find not only a band more influential, but also so widely loved by not just musicians, but also by the general public.

Although it pains me to admit this, Depeche Mode were one of my first forays into the musical world outside of big-haired hard rock, and I still hold Black Celebration and Some Great Reward as two albums I have to immediately replace if they get stolen or have some other fate befall them. They were perhaps the first group to really show me how important songwriting was on the overall level, that good music without good lyrics was about as effective as an earth-shaking documentary on the WB network. And therein lies the reason Tribute for the Masses is such an effective album - even though sixteen different bands get a shot to put their own spin on the music of Depeche Mode, the lyrics stay the same - and still pack the same punch they did when they were first released.

But perhaps the greatest credit to Tribute for the Masses is not just the quality of the artists assembled, but the variety. As surprised as I was to see Monster Magnet and Deftones, I must admit the biggest surprise was see The Cure with a fine performance of “World In My Eyes”, especially given their status as another of the driving forces behind alternative music in the eighties (and a band deserving of their own tribute album, in my opinion). And while I’ve heard rumors that Robert Smith and company were planning on employing a more raw sound on their next studio album, there’s little evidence of it here, as “World In My Eyes” is one of the more elaborately-produced songs on the album.

And unlike other tribute albums, where the goal seems to be to get your version of the song as far away from the original as possible, the majority of the bands never stray too far from the source material, including the bands that you wouldn’t suspect like Deftones. Their version of “To Have and To Hold”, while being considerably heavier than the original still holds the same dark intensity of the original, much like their version of “The Chauffeur” on last year’s Duran Duran tribute album. And speaking of dark intensity, Rammstein’s version of “Stripped” takes the award for being the creepiest song on the album; of course, most any Rammstein song would take that award.

To name the qualities of all the good songs on the album would take up too much space, but there are a few songs that certainly bear noting. The lounge version of “Master and Servant” by Locust adds a new twist to the song by making it a duet. Monster Magnet actually succeed in somehow keeping the dark aspects of “Black Celebration”, but lightening the song up a little at the same time - a trick of Copperfield-esque proportions. Among the contributions by lesser-known acts, Self’s version of the relatively unknown (outside of hardcore fan circles, at least) “Shame” is extremely well-done, as is “I Feel You” by Apollo Four Forty.

Produced by God Lives Underwater’s Jeff Turzo and David Reilly (who, it should be noted, contribute a well-done version of “Fly on the Windscreen”), Tribute for the Masses is a great tribute album. It keeps true to the original concept of the band that it pays honor to by employing a variety of different forms and artists. And even when it doesn’t work that well (Veruca Salt’s version of “Somebody”), it still works pretty damn fine. Of course, it helps to have great source material to start with.

Original Date: 1998-08-05
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