Aren’t tribute albums terrible? That’s a running truth masquerading as a joke in Greil Marcus’s recent compilation of his Real Life Rock Top Ten lists, and he’s absolutely correct.
Out of all of the tribute albums ever, the only one that was worth a shit was Sweet Relief, the Victoria Williams tribute, an exception that proved the rule once and for all.
Of course, none of that stopped me from buying Surprise Your Pig: A Tribute to R.E.M., when it showed up at Ragin’ Records in 1992. Because R.E.M.
And up, most of it was forgettable at best, except for this punky cover of my secret favorite song from Fables of The Reconstruction of The Fables, “Good Advices.”
In the original version, “Good Advices” is slow and etherial, sharing those advices almost reluctantly from under the covers of a dozen 12-string guitars, every one more delicately layered that then last.
But Flor De Mal, who are apparently from Italy, up the tempo and throw all pretense of mystery away. The tempo is up, the guitars all over the place and the vocals amateurish and completely friendly.
In fact, while the guitars are all over the map in the best early-90s indie way, it’s the ESL vocals that I truly love. Instead of the beautiful blending of Michael Stipe’s lonely lead and Mike Mills occasional backup, the Flor De Mal guys are all over the place. The lead singer is extra rough and probably not in tune, and the backing vocals are all over the place.
And here’s the cool thing: you get the impression that they’re doing the best they can: this is their definitive version of “Good Advices,” and because that love of the song comes through in every weird guitar part, every missed drumbeat, every not-quite-there vocal harmony, this turns out to be my favorite cover of any R.E.M. song.
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