Whilst there has been a wave of bands from the post-punk, Shoegaze and early nineties scenes reuniting of late, few have come back to the fore with new material. And of those who have returned clutching a new album, few have one as interesting as this. Not content with riding the nostalgia wave, Medicine do the decent thing and arrive with Scarred For Life, a brand new album…sort of… and an exciting batch of songs at that. But the unique thing here is that it’s an album of covers! Okay, bear with me.
There is an art to tackling covers and it goes a bit like this. Either you go for a faithful rendition, a pure tribute, or you find somewhere new to take the songs. And the arguments against go like this. If you take the former approach, then why do we need a facsimile of a song which already has a legion of fans? If the latter, are you arrogant enough to think that you can improve on what the original artist had in mind? To succeed you have to retain something of the spirit of the original whilst exploring its potential alter egos. Thankfully that is exactly what Medicine manage to pull off here.
And thankfully too the choice of covers is as beguiling and mercurial as the music they make, it feels like a strange take on a Now That’s What I Call Music compilation; a random selection of cool underground classics, band favourites, oddments and forgotten gems. No theme, no musical connection beyond being songs that the band wanted to record.
Buffalo Springfield’s Expecting to Fly is strange blend of Vangelisian soundscapes and the signature cosmic Americana of the original, Scritti Politti’s Sweetest Girl wanders down some lovely pastoral pathways and perhaps the most surprising inclusion, in an album of surprising inclusions, is The Jaynettes Sally, Go Round The Roses which has been shifted from its 60’s R&B origins to seventies psychedelia and done so as if it never belonged anywhere else. All of this delivered with a sprinkling of the bands own swirling brilliance.
It’s easy to see who they rub shoulders with sonically. They share the same drifting, hazy approach as My Bloody Valentine but with Ride’s slightly more structured, melodic core and this is blended through the spirit of the original songs so that you end up with the perfect combination of familiarity and freshness, nostalgia and experimentation. And if the sound is familiar, so are the faces. Brad Laner and Jim Goodall are reunited with original vocalist, not to mention first bassist for The Bangles, Annette Zilinskas, and Matt Devine, a guitarist who has threaded through the bands history, is back for this latest adventure.
So do cover albums work, especially in a world where almost all music is at the punters fingertips? They do in the hands of Medicine. Perhaps one day all cover albums will be made this way. We can but hope.