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  Even Better than the Real Thing - A Tribute to U2
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Independents Anonymous (2002)
Length: 15 Tracks (67:12 minutes)

By their very nature, tribute albums are uncertain enterprises.  If the featured artists adhere too closely to the compositions they're covering, the new versions are destined to seem superfluous by comparison. Conversely, if they are overzealous in their reworking of the original songs, legions of purists stand ready to label their work as near-sacrilege. Be that as it may, though, Even Better than the Real Thing - A Tribute to U2, the collaborative work of a consortium of six LA area indie labels whose artists contributed tracks to the release, offers plenty for listeners to take a shine to. 

Friction Bailey retools "Pride (In the Name of Love)" as a loping folk/rock piece, sprinkling it with the occasional Latin horn to punctuate the splendid song's delicate acoustic texture.  The Lift Off collective lays hold of the swelling intensity of "Where the Streets Have No Name," adding synth treatments and echo-laden vocals to lend the driving anthem an engaging sense of starkness.  And the members of the Relatives, Doom Kounty Electric Chair and Tunnel Fishin' turn in blistering, best-of-album versions of "With or Without You," "An Cat Dubh" and "Bullet the Blue Sky" that are almost certain to make even the most feisty of garage bands nod their heads in approval.  Even ostensible send-ups like Lance Angelus' lounge version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and Danny Dean and the Homewreckers' bouncing surf/swing take on "Two Hearts Beat as One" seem likely to draw knowing grins from the members U2 themselves, who spent a good portion of the '90s lampooning their own star status.

The tribute is fairly equitable towards the U2 catalog as a whole, pulling tracks from seven of their eight studio albums (October is not represented). While over half of its tracks are taken, perhaps not surprisingly, from the group's biggest-sellers, Achtung Baby and the Joshua Tree, Real Thing does feature roughly equal amounts of hit singles and lesser-known entries, which works well for both longtime fans and relative newcomers, alike.  U2 devotees will appreciate a release full of skillful and exuberant reimaginings of their favorite band's output, while casual listeners will find the release an ideal way to sample the band's more obscure offerings while still garnering roughly an EP's worth of familiar material to fall back upon.  While Real Thing may not, in the most literal sense, live up to its title as stated, it nevertheless stands as a much better than average tribute that mirrors the copious talent, and captures the gloriously abandoned spirit, of the band that it acknowledges.

Bert Gangl 2/16/2002


“Can you give me a general definition of imitation? for I really do not myself understand what it professes to be.” from Plato’s The Republic, Book X. 
It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, yet flattery is defined as “excessive praise from motives of self-interest.”  The imitator cannot match the creator’s effort and thus, must make his aim to create his own from the original, while respectfully paying tribute to his inspiration, the creator’s work.  This is the difficult situation that the artists on Even Better Than the Real Thing - A Tribute to U2 find themselves in.  To simply cover a song does not entail creativity, but to make too sharp a contrast with the original could be easily considered sacrilege.  The 15-song project showcases the talents of six of L.A. music labels hottest indie bands through cover offerings from the repertoire of U2, arguably the biggest band in the world currently and suddenly mythological in status.

The tribute opens with a saucy reworking of “Discotheque” by Drag.  The female vocal-driven band tears through the opening number with a Pat Benatar-ish performance and showcases some gritty guitar work too.  

The album takes a slower, more methodical turn on track two though, when Lance Angelus puts his own spin on the classic “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and wanders further away from the original than most of the other artists on Even Better. An ensemble of horns adds a touch of light to an otherwise dark song, and a playful bass line plods along throughout the song, making for a bluesy rendition of the revolutionary tune.  On first listen, the offering from Angelus may sound a bit weak and inappropriate, but I found it to be a creative take on the song after a few listens. 

Friction Bailey’s also utilizes some Latin-flavored horns to pepper a lazy, acoustic take on their version “Pride (In the Name of Love).”  Peoplemover rips off a stirring rendition of “Acrobat” and Lift Off pulls off the electronica sound nicely on “Where the Streets Have No Name.”  Other highlights include the rousting version of “An Cat Dubh” by Doom Kounty Electric Chair and the Tom Jones/lounge club-like rendering of “Two Hearts Beat As One” by Danny Dean and the Homewreckers. 

But Even Better has its contrived moments too.  “With or Without You” is given a straight-ahead rock technique by The Relatives, but the end result is nothing more than a tired, bland rock song that is too plentiful with rock and too stingy with passionate delivery.  In the same vein, Tunnel Fishin’ lingers a tad too close musically to the original of “Bullet the Blue Sky” and is the owner of an annoying vocal performance. 

But overall, Even Better is a diverse album of creativity and cleverness, marked by innovative deliveries and some musical risks that must be applauded.  It doesn’t exactly live up to its billing, but it does a better than average job of walking the tightrope that is a tribute album. 

Matt Williams 03/10/2002



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