The most important thing I’ve learned from American Idol is that when covering a song, song choice is everything, dawg. To begin with, it has to be a song that your audience knows or it may not hold their attention. This is where Midtown, Emery, and A Thorn For Every Heart go wrong on this compilation. While there is no Billy Idol, Duran Duran, Culture Club, or the Cars here, these bands illogically chose to perform songs from The Outfield, Bonnie Tyler, and Oingo Boingo. The core audience for these “punk” bands, likely composed of the under-18 set, doesn’t know these songs and would be less likely to call in a vote (if this were a televised talent contest).
Secondly, you should choose a song that hasn’t been covered before. For example, you never saw Clay Aiken performing the same song as Ruben Studdard. If you do choose a song that has been covered earlier, you better be damn sure that you can pull it off better than they did. Four artists on Punk Goes 80’s violated this rule, and only two emerge victorious.
I decided to show this in the ever popular battle format. It is better if you imagine each band in spandex and Mexican luchadore masks.
COVER BATTLE #1: SUGARCULT VS. MEST
Sugarcult provide an early, three-minute festival of yawns with “I Melt With You.” It’s pretty bad when Mest, who covered the song for the soundtrack to 2001’s ridiculously bad Not Another Teen Movie, do a better job on a song than your band. In Cover Battle #1, the “What’s the Dillio?” guys totally kick Sugarcult’s collective asses, and that is sad.
COVER BATTLE #2: RUFIO VS. YELLOWCARD
Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” covered here by Rufio, was also recently covered by Yellowcard at the annual celebrity ego-fest known as the MTV Movie Awards. Apparently Yellowcard had discovered a cure for insomnia and were very excited to share it with the world and to accompany it with a montage of scenes from The Breakfast Club. Rufio’s version is energized and more complex, making them the clear winners here.
COVER BATTLE #3: AMBER PACIFIC VS. PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
“Hey! Why don’t we cover the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star!” Nobody’s done that before…” In fact, the Presidents of the United States of America covered the song six years ago for the soundtrack to Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer. The song wasn’t only heard in theatres. It was also a radio hit and has been played on many a VH1 countdown since. On the other hand, Amber Pacific’s rendition sounds more like a cover of the Presidents’ cover than of the original song. Amber Pacific loses because their cover is completely unnecessary.
COVER BATTLE #4: GATSBY’S AMERICAN DREAM VS. 311
While Gatsby’s American Dream and 311 covered different Cure songs (“Just Like Heaven” and “Love Song,” respectively), I wanted to compare them because I am still enraged over 311’s blasphemous, reggae-tinged trainwreck. After hearing the cover of “Love Song” on the radio, I ranted about the untouchable nature of the Cure for at least twenty minutes. Surprisingly, Gatsby’s American Dream does a great job with “Just Like Heaven.” After an arduous battle between good and evil, Gatsby’s wins with an astonishing cover that even Cure fans approve of.
Petty problems with song choice and momentous battles aside, the remainder of Punk Goes 80’s is just as polarized. Moog is not enough to save Relient K’s cover of the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” which feels like it belongs on a Disney movie soundtrack. In an uncharacteristic move, the artists offered up by Drive Thru Records don’t embarrass themselves here. Instead, Halifax, Hidden in Plain View, and The Early November actually carry this album, acting as little bursts of retro joy in between big messes. Additionally, Brazil’s Police cover, Motion City Soundtrack’s moog heavy version of “Pop Song 89,” and So They Say’s ballsy choice of Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” even out the positive side of this compilation.
Despite mixed results in this installment, I hope that Fearless Records continues the Punk Goes… series. I’m just dying for Punk Goes Ace of Base.