Various Artists: ‘…Imaginary Songs’

As discussed in last week’s column, there is a tremendous difficulty in meshing varying styles and/or artists to great effect on any type of compilation. The Cure tribute album ‘Imaginary Songs…’ is an example of this very problem.

The art of ‘the album’ is rarely mastered, but, when it is, it heightens the whole beyond the value of its individual tracks. Case in point: Bran Van 3000’s ‘Discosis’, Ghostland’s self-titled debut album, Colin James And The Little Big Band’s first album, The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, and Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices Of Light’ which, when picked apart, have pretty good tracks – but nothing nowhere as memorable as the albums they’re culled from.

On the flip side, many ‘artists’ can write a decent track. But to inbue an album with life requires a skill and finesse that goes beyond the mere collection of great singles. Case in point: New Order’s ‘Best Of’, The Sisters Of Mercy’s ‘A Slight Case Of Overbombing’, The Cult’s ‘Pure Cult’, Dire Strait’s ‘Sultans Of Swing’ and Prince’s ‘The Hits (both volumes!)’ featuring tracks that were all tremendous on their original releases, but which are diluted in compilation form.

Having said this, ‘Imaginary Songs…’ faces two clear hurdles: a few lacklustre renditions and a collage that lacks fluidity.

There are moments that work, evidently, like the ingenious juxtaposition of Curtis Newton’s nearly ambient ‘A Night Like This’ with the playfulness of ‘Close To Me’ (in a very well-conceived French translation), however the sheer banality of some of the performances bogs things down over time.

Of course, beyond Newton’s entry and M’s “Close To Me”, there are a few other notable bits, such as LT. NO’s minimalist “Seventeen Seconds”, which is intriguing (although a bit abrasive), and Tara King Th’s “Cold” which emphasizes the empty isolationism of the original. There are even some acoustic, melotronic and countrified versions that actually work – but which may seem totally out of place unless one focuses on the actual end results (instead of the original recordings, as unforgetable as they may be).

Admittedly, it would prove very challenging to completely disfigure the sullen beauty of The Cure’s original compositions, considering that many of the selected titles on this recording are ‘classics’. And this is what saves the disc: the original material is potent enough to overwhelm the flaws inherent in this mélange.

All in all, the album bears its title fairly well: as weak as the final result may be, there are some very imaginative takes included on it. And, in this case, it’s reason enough to warrant spinning the disc a few times.

We give it a 6 out of 10.

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