Rating: 7 / Format: 2xCD / Label: Ministry of Sound

There are no rules to covers – the focus of Ministry’s weirdly edifying latest compilation. Just because you love a song doesn’t mean that you’re going to enjoy a cover of it; indeed, familiarity with the source material will likely render you more hostile to any presumptuous pretender. I mean, I love ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, but I can’t just abide the recent versions by Sly & Robbie and Jose Gonzalez respectively, and I don’t think any sane person could. Conversely, just because you hate a song in its original form doesn’t mean you’re going to hate the cover:  how else to explain my affection for Roots Manuva’s dotty ‘Yellow Submarine’?

Like Jacko’s ‘Billie Jean’ and Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, The Specials’ original recording of ‘Ghost Town’ is the definitive one. It’s simply, plainly unbeatable – and the last people who are going to succeed in bettering it are the frickin’ Prodigy. However, while Kraftwerk’s own ‘Computer Love’ is delightful, it sounds no less delightful in the sensitive hands of Glass Candy. Thanks to Johnny Jewel’s cool, pristine production and Ida No’s purring vocal, Glass Candy succeed in reinventing the tune – just as I Monster’s sample-based ‘Daydream In Blue’  breathes fresh and unpredictable life into the The Gunter Kallman Choir’s lounge obscurity.

Friendly Fires borrow the bassline from Frankie Knuckles’ ‘Your Love’ and build a completely new song out of it – a strident indie epic that’s pretty much impossible not to love – and I’ve got a lingering soft spot for Tiga’s deadpan interpretation of Nelly’s ‘Hot In Herre’. One of the most successful covers on Uncovered is also one of the most subtle and faithful: Williams adds very little to, and takes very little away from, Tangerine Dream’s impossibly plangent synth odyssey ‘Love On A Real Train’ (recorded for the soundtrack of Tom Cruise vehicle Risky Business), but that’s his triumph – he simple makes it sound more modern and fulsome, and achieves possibly the noblest aim of a "coverer" – that is, to bring a little-known gem of a song to a wider, appreciative audience.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some abject howlers on this record, like Moonbootica’s dim-witted electro-funk re-routing of House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’, but even the worst tracks tend to elicit amusement rather than outright disgust (I dare you to listen to Miss Dynamite’s ‘Dy-na-mi-tee’ as covered by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and keep a straight face).  What this good-natured compilation tells us, more than anything, is that the art of the cover version is a mysterious art indeed, one that still confounds expectations. And the failures of The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim (‘The Joker’) and Macy Gray (‘Walk This Way’) serve only to highlight the unlikely triumphs of Williams, Glass Candy, I Monster and their more creative ilk.

Zena Badawi

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