Cover albums are usually a collection of songs that sound pretty much like the originals, with some really eclectic choices to show how cool the band is. In other words, they’re about establishing credibility for musical tastes, but not so much for musical skill. It’s much easier to be creative when someone else already did the creating part of the job.
But not so, “Turn Ons,” the debut album by Supergrass side project Hot Rats (starring Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey). The songs here are more than covers—they take on the originals in meaningful ways, even changing the very composition. The most obvious example is their falsetto, almost emo cover of The Beastie Boys anthem, “Fight for Your Right To Party,” which I didn’t even recognize until I did a double-take on the lyrics. But there are subtler examples as well. The Lovecats, for example, is beautifully reworked from goth to psychedelic punk, and Bike is reworked from psychedelic rock to psychedelic new wave, while Squeeze’s “Up the Junction” goes from soulless Europop to a song with painful meaning. Honestly, I knew all the lyrics to that song and must have listened to it a hundred times at college parties, but I never realized it was a desperate song about an alcoholic who destroys his own marriage.
You’ll be curious about this album because it’s a covers album and, hey, who doesn’t love covers? But you should get it because it’s very, very good. And unlike most covers projects, it might actually surprise you.