Why is it that people take tribute albums as lightly as they do? They’re a wonderful thing: the standardized fitness tests of the rock academy. While any band that’s worth sneezing at can cobble together a set of original songs that’ll play up their strengths and paper over their failings, many can’t pull off more than a selected cover or two without risk of exposure and ridicule. All the Scotch tape and wires become visible, you see. When Stone Temple Pilots did “Dancing Days,” it was instantly clear what Led Zep were by comparison, and who came out better in the final measure. When Moby did Mission of Burma — well, the blood’s not dry on the floor even yet, and as good as Moby is when he’s doing his own thing, there are places he’ll never be allowed again without professional escort. We learn from moments like these.
“We Will Fall” is actually a pretty top-heavy collection. Joan Jett’s “Real Wild Child” kicks major ass; and the reunited Blondie (incognito as Adolph’s Dog) do a torchy “Ordinary Bummer” that practically screams for their reentry into the VH1 arena. No life lessons there. But then Monster Magnet contributes an unimpeachable, growly “Gimme Danger”; and 7-Year Bitch dominates the entire final half of the collection with a “Shake Appeal” that captures all the spirit of the ’73-era Stooges without plundering their sound. Even Pansy Division (?!?!) get it right on “Loose,” making up for the jarring obviousness of the “stick it deep inside” lyric by hanging a weary, keening Max’s Kansas City drawl over the basic whomp and thud of their back line.
But a lot of more obvious contenders don’t fare so well. The Chili Peppers’ “Search and Destroy” seemed pretty ripping as a single B-side; here it just shows off what a sexless, funkless singer Anthony Keidis really is, compared to — oh, jeez, Jesse Malin of D-Generation, say. The Misfits have some twerp goombah lead singer now, who sounds like he’d rather be Paul Rodgers than Iggy. The Lunachicks try to rock, but make “The Passenger” sound like a TV kids’ show theme, flipping their braids from side to side during the “la la la” parts; and N.Y. Loose’s “Lust For Life” could be the most self-congratulatory bulldozing of a worthy rock song ever, eclipsing even the Blanks 77′s heedless, rollicking “Fun Time” — a song that was never supposed to be fun at all. Yes, truth’s light pains the eyes, but it learns us well. Who would’ve thought the Bush Tetras’ “Sister Midnight” would come near beating out Iggy’s own version? Who would’ve thought that Joey Ramone could pull off “1969″? Who can live knowing that N.Y. Loose walks the earth unfettered?
The “We Will Fall” collection is for charity: Every smidge of royalties will go to benefit LIFEbeat, the music industry’s AIDS foundation. Listen in good conscience: N.Y. Loose won’t get a penny.