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Following on from four warmly received albums, a b-sides compilation, and a solo album from each of its members in over just seven years, Sunderland’s 2012 breakthrough act Field Music (admittedly using a Mercury Music Prize nomination as a barometer of when a band 'breaks through' is a science on a par with [SATIRE] Mitt Romney’s economic calculations [/SATIRE]) can be forgiven for indulging themselves somewhat). Whilst many of us though would take this as an opportunity to let our hair down with some
piss-weak lager we paid £4.99 a bottle for in some Hoxton Club PBR, David and Peter Brewis have instead opted for the time-worn rock band hallmark of self-indulgence, the covers album.
Field Music Play... (if I’m allowed a moment of pedantry, surely this should be Field Music Plays...?) neatly avoids any accusations of worthlessness: clocking in at a fraction over half an hour with just eight tracks and released a mere seven months after the acclaimed Plumb, the normal criticisms of a covers album deriding a band for being starved of ideas and hungry for a quick buck can’t seriously apply. Whilst the earlier release this year was a whistle-stop tour of a myriad of influences, Play is a direct tribute to seven of them (The Pet Shop Boys are lovingly covered twice here) as well as an enjoyable, if disposable, aside; 'I ended up singing it as half gay love story' David Brewis recently said, talking about their cover of Tennant & Lowe’s ‘Rent’ for Record Day 2012, and with reworkings of tracks by John Cale and Roxy Music there is a definite air of androgyny to the record.
'Rent' is probably the strongest track on this collection. It retains the dreamy yearning of the outstanding original, but strips away all the electro pop and replaces it with a folksy aesthetic means that this is perhaps even more starkly reflected in the lyrics: “Look at my hopes, look at my dreams/The currency we've spent /I love you, you pay my rent”. ‘Fear is a Man’s Best Friend’ seems modernised but is a fairly straight take on Cale’s original, as is the rendition of ‘If There is Something’ by Roxy Music and Brewis’s fellow North Easterner sound-a-like Bryan Ferry. Elsewhere the duo takes on Leonard Cohen’s covers album staple ‘Suzanne’ with aplomb - their version hardly blows the listener away but loses none of the original’s loveliness.
The two most interesting choices on Field Music Play...(s)... are former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett’s underrated solo masterpiece ‘Terrapin’ and The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Pass Me By’. The former is reworked into Field Music’s own style, although in doing so they render it unremarkable and lose the wonderful psychedelic weirdness for which Barrett is so fondly remembered: it’s nothing unpleasant, but it’s reminiscent of the time I got a copy of Total Recall only to find it had been edited for violence and swearing. The reworking of The Beatles track is perhaps the most interesting on the album; it may be sacrilege to call any of the Liverpudlians’ pieces rubbish, but this is a Ringo one so I might get away with it. Here it is transformed from nobody’s plodding favourite into a four-minute tribute to the band’s entire canon, on the chorus slipping neatly into ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and also hiding away their love for the band with obfuscated snippets of ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Blackbird’.
Play might be a bit of a thrown together casserole of tracks, but it’s an enjoyable one that only the coldest hipster would begrudge the Brewises.
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