I don’t like cover albums. I really don’t. But now I am going to try to convince you to listen to one anyway. Because, how can you not like Robyn Gibson a.k.a Bob of the Pops?
Cover versions are often made out of speculation, or they are sloppy homages, or just simply pointless. But the choices Robyn makes convey both his love for the music and deep insight into the minds of the original songwriters. His versions actually add something where detraction is the unfortunate norm.
Robyn recently released the third instalment in his Bob of the Pops series, again as a free download. I mean, you can’t even pay what you want. And I for one certainly would want to pay for this!
But apart from the price, there is nothing cheap here. On the contrary, the sounds are genuine and the bisonaroundsuspectosound production is tasteful down to every detail.
Apart from a few guests this time round, we are left in Robyn’s exceptionally talented care for the whole thing. As an effect, that gives a coherence to the songs although they originate from many times and places.
It also inevitably makes me think of the Fading Yellow compilation series, which stands out for its uncanny coherence in production values – and the genre here could indeed be called Fading Yellow.
When listening, you are immediately torn between wanting to put on the originals to compare and being totally fascinated by the stuff you haven’t heard before. It is like peeking into someone else’s record collection and realising that it just has the great stuff without all the fluff that’s in your own.
And suddenly, giving this away for free starts making some sense. The Bob of the Pops albums are an invitation from a fan to other fans to a conversation about what makes pop music good. In addition, it eliminates elitism about taste from the get go. Robyn has spent a lot of time listening to music but rather than be the expert who dictates to others what is good, he is simply sharing his love for this stuff. And I am certain that he would be thrilled if listening to this makes people actually continue on to the originals.
The album opens with a sunny version of ‘When Your Light’s Turned On’ from the ‘Evolution’ album by the Hollies. It makes for easy yet glistening listening and sets the tone for what’s to come: More pop than psychedelia and more sweet than sour.
But it is soon evident that easy in this case certainly doesn’t mean shallow. The treatment of the Bee Gees ‘Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts’ is… in fact better than the original.
It starts off with just piano and voice like it should, but about two thirds in the sound expands to a full band treatment before going back to just the voice from the intro and ending on the song’s signature lone piano note.
It seems so obvious that at first I thought that’s the way the Bee Gees did it. But they didn’t. I even had to listen to an alternative version just to make sure the full band part wasn’t there either. Although it sounds so much like a Bee Gees thing, it just isn’t there.
It takes a Gibson to better a Gibb. And a genius one at that!
A track that I had to search deep for in my collection is ‘Bathroom Wall’ and I can’t say I properly remembered it. Thanks Robyn for putting this catchy 1968 B-side by US band the Tokens with roots back to Neil Sedaka in the mid 50s back on my playlist!!
The totally new acquaintance for me this time around is Joe Pernice. To be honest, I am still not sure who this guy is, but I went straight ahead and ordered his ‘Big Tobacco’ album.
“So help me Lord, get me stoned again” sings Robyn with an irresistibly bittersweet voice, but despite the drug reference this is not a 60s song. The original release is from 2000 and like the covers of songs by Andy Partridge, Julian Cope and Elliot Smith help extend the album through time.
Another killer track here is ‘Goose Step Mama’. The original is a spoof track by Neil Innes’ Beatles tribute band the Rutles. Doing a serious and honest Rutles cover again – after having done ‘With a Girl Like You’ on volume 1 – is cool because it places Neil Innes where he should be, namely among the originals.
But there is one thing that worries me with this release. Volume 2 came only a year ago, but it has been two years since the latest release by Robyn’s proper band, the Junipers. And I, for one, have been counting the hours ever since.
Every single Bob fan in the world now screams for a new Junipers album!