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Who can release an album that at its core is unoriginal material, but also garner frenetic anticipation for its release? Who can release a pure cover album to a punk scene teeming with listeners traditionally bent on the motto “gimme something better, gimme something new” and expect any success? Who the fuck can juxtapose Radiohead, Bad Religion, Paul Simon & one hit wonder, The Cyrkle onto an album and maintain a solid cohesiveness and not end up tagged as pure gimmickry?
Streetlight Manifesto can. Streetlight Manifesto did. The anticipated 99 Songs of Revolution finally takes off with Volume 1 and does not disappoint. To make a quick aside, I’m a sucker for the great remake of a song. I also get nauseated, quickly, at the horrible & senseless song remake, and usually I find more of the latter. I love the subversive cover usually done by punk bands. It’s a natural fit. Then sometimes a band will take a mediocre song, and make it better or even take a staple song and just make it new with a complete and measured overhaul. What I can’t stand is the pure “karaoke” cover. Country music loves this crap. One version of Freebird was enough, thank you. Streetlight Manifesto doesn’t have covers on this album, they release Streetlight Manifesto / Ballads of the Acoustic Revolution VERSIONS. Bad Religion is and will always be #1 in my book so I cringed when I saw the punk anthem “Skyscraper” was on the ticket. The jangly reggae version by SM made the same song sound like so much more. Is it better? No. But it’s as powerful, which not only celebrates Bad Religion but also displays the concept of the project. It’s a song of revolution, and its composition pervades styles and sound. It’s not just a song, it’s an idea. NOFX’s “Linoleum” is delivered in the same manner and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” seems tailor made for SM’s music mode. Radiohead’s “Just” begins with quick nod to Nirvana and delivers a bombastic sing-a-long that in many ways pays homage to Radiohead’s experimentalism, but done in the ska sandbox.
The amazing part of the album is how easily SM could pass off all these songs as their originals. If a listener had no idea this was a cover album nor of the bands in reference, they would experience another seamless masterpiece from SM. Although they are spanning multiple decades of music & genres, one never gets any sense of disjointedness or chunkiness. My only rug with the album, and it is to just be nitpicky, is the appearance of “They Provide the Paint for the Picture-Perfect Masterpiece.” This song has a great version by essentially the same band already on record. I just would have preferred it probably on a later volume than the first much anticipated release. To SM’s defense, this isn’t just the old song dropped on the record to make it to that magic #11 to work out the 99 song framework. There is significant sonic revision to the song.
Great album and lived up to its hype. If the next 8 albums are done with this amount of integrity & vision, it will be one of the great sweeping projects of our time.