Cover albums are inherently risky, and quite frankly more than a little overdone of late. Leave it to Tangerine Dream to breathe new life into things — with an intriguing menu of choices and, more often than not, an unerring way of interpretive brilliance.
Some of these songs, in fact, work so well that you wonder why they weren’t already part of the set list for Edgar Froese’s pioneering space-music amalgam: “Cry Little Sister,” Gerard McMann’s hit from the 1987 soundtrack from The Lost Boys, already boasts the appropriation amount of weird portent. Kraftwerk’s “Das Model” and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” have this entirely appropriate, and quite shattering, vulnerability. Tangerine Dream dives headlong into the twin sentiments of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah,” too, more deeply exploring the doomy portent of the former and the fragile hopefulness of the latter.
Then, there are the surprises — those moments when Tangerine Dream selects something that shouldn’t have worked, and instead take complete ownership of it: “Wicked Game,” for instance, couldn’t have seemed more ill-fitting — and yet Froese and Co. deftly transform Chris Isaak’s 1989 song into something somehow even more lonesome and lovelorn. The band also makes fast friends with David Bowie’s spooky 1970s-era work, smartly reanimating “Heroes” into a space-age electro-anthem. Their take on “Space Oddity,” which expands upon the initial track’s faraway-galaxy chill, is a triumph, as well.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Tangerine Dream combined with Brian May for a 2011 release from the Starmus Festival, proving perhaps definitively that there is little the Queen guitarist can’t do.]
Not everything fits: As heartfelt as the vocal no doubt is on R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” there just is no escaping the original’s power and grace. Tangerine Dream also doesn’t do enough to differentiate from better-known initial takes of Depeche Mode’s “Precious” and the Eagles’ “Hotel California” — right down to the meltdown twin guitars. Meanwhile, “Iris,” from Goo Goo Dolls, simply doesn’t have the required emotional resonance.
But all is forgiven as Tangerine Dream launches into a soaring, squelchy take on the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” a moment so weirdly effective that it’s transfixing. Gone, of course, are the woody acoustics of the 1965 version, replaced by enough modern-age blips and bleeps to recall the psychedelic wonders of John Lennon’s work of a few years later — but not in an imitative way.
No, this is some entirely new, a synthesis in the old-fashioned sense of the word — and another reminder of why these kind of reinterpretations can still be so involving. Especially, when you push the envelope like Tangerine Dream does, once again.
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