It’s hard to believe that Bek David Campbell, the boy who sang that MTV made him want to smoke crack, is now 40. It’s an inescapable, and perhaps inevitable, fact that in recent years Beck has mellowed somewhat: his most recent releases lacking both the angst and the irony that made his seminal albums, Odelay and Sea Change so potent. As with anyone who is labeled a spokesman for his generation, Beck seems content to make way for new blood. Now, he is clearly more focused on the music, as exemplified by his somewhat hit and miss Record Club project: groups of talented and high-profile musicians from all corners of indie-dom gathering to record a cover of an entire album in just one day.
Joined by Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens collaborator St. Vincent on guitar, Brooklyn dance-punk band Liars and Sergio Dias of the decisive Brazilian psychedelic rock group Os Mutantes, amongst others, Beck’s latest Record Club project tackles one-time biggest band in the world INXS’ biggest album, the hit-laden 1987 release Kick. With its slew of well-known pop-rock classics, Kick is the most ambitious effort of the Record Club to date, and the one they most make their own. With Liars providing a solid backdrop of blues-tinged rock, the Record Club version of Kick is situated far from the now-cheesy synth-rock of the 1980s milieu in which the original was recorded (and most importantly, produced).
Of course the most important moment on any INXS cover album is “Never Tear Us Apart,” the towering pop ballad that is one of the most recognizable Australian songs. In short, the Record Club absolutely nail this determining track. St. Vincent’s flowery, fragile vocals are laid over a dank and dirty backdrop provided by Liars, with Sergio Dias eerie violin solo the capstone of a version of this song that effectively captures the darkness and shadow present in Michael Hutchence’s lyrics. This darkness is further explored throughout the album, which provides an alternate look at the Hutchence’s lyrics, without the gloss and sheen of the 1987 originals performed by INXS. Tracks such as “New Sensation” and “Devil Inside” are here rendered far more powerfully without the over-production ever-present on pop and rock releases from the 1980s. “Devil Inside” is another highlight, the original track slowed down to a snail’s pace to accommodate Beck’s gruff vocals over a pulsing bassline.
However, there are moments when it seems that the Record Club just don’t get what the songs they’re covering are really about. The stripped back (yet incredibly busy) version of the title track captures none of the original’s energy, and is also devoid of any emotion. This just highlights the limitations of the album in a day concept that underlies the Record Club project, and the fact that any enjoyment a fan – of either Beck, his collaborators or INXS – can attain is as fleeting and impermanent as the group of musicians who produced it.