Ska Chartbusters

Various Artists

Wolverine / SPV Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


We've all heard enough bad cover albums in our times - you know, groups who have no right even owning musical instruments attempting to play songs we know and love in a fashion that makes us want to strangle them with their own Stratocasters. Lord knows I've stepped on enough of these musical landmines in my time, so one could understand why I'm a bit shell-shocked when any disc in this category arrives in my mailbox.

And then, there's Ska Chartbusters, a disc originally issued in Germany which apparently hit these shores not too long ago. Imagine it: 25 bands all playing in the style of Madness or early No Doubt, taking on such musical stalwarts as Queen, Wham, Marillion, and... John Denver? This disc was either going to be enjoyable, or it was guaranteeing I would be living on Mylanta for a week.

Surprise! Ska Chartbusters is amazingly refreshing, putting spins on well-worn songs that I never thought could be applied. Throwing on a generous layer of horn-laden ska while staying as true as possible to the original songs, these bands do an admirable job, even if you're hearing these groups for the very first time.

Being a German release, it's no surprise that most of the bands on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Ska Chartbusters are from Germany. (Their control of English is to be applauded; if I had no liner notes to go on, with the exception of the tracks sung in German, I'd have thought these were all American bands.) Even the tracks sung in German are somewhat enjoyable, even if I don't understand a single word. Not being familiar with the original works from artists like Nina Hagen and Die Aeronauten, I'll assume that the bands who cover these artists' songs (like Blascore and Frau Doktor, respectively) stay true to these particular originals.

Now, I'll admit that while I appreciate ska, it's not always the easiest form of music to get through in one sitting. Then again, when you've got bands covering songs like Metallica's "Seek And Destroy" (Suspects), Frank Zappa's "Dirty Love" (Gangster Fun), Bob Marley's "Soul Rebel" (The Butlers) and - good grief, Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" (Greenhouse), it's surprisingly easy to get locked into this two-CD set.

Ska Chartbusters applies this style of music to genres you never would have imagined combining it with. Frank Sinatra's "New York New York"? Skanatra does it, and actually puts a sense of humor in it, too. Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloop"? It's here, as Los Placebos's "Skantaloop" - and a damn good job they do on it, as well. John Denver's "Leaving On A Jet Plane"? Dr. Raju handle it well, though it loses just a touch of the melancholic nature of the song being played at a danceable tempo. Still, not the band's fault.

Are there any faults on Ska Chartbusters? I count but two. The first is merely a personal preference - namely, why Abba's "Mamma Mia" and Europe's "The Final Countdown" get covered twice. Oh, all the covers are enjoyable, but doubling up on these, with one version of each song per disc, is a little repetitive. Second, the only ska cover which doesn't really take off is Thumper's take on Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" - mostly because the band doesn't stay with the original lyric pattern. (Full disclosure: Benuts could be accused of the same thing with their cover of "Dancin' In The Streets," but they do keep it sounding interesting. Besides, there have been alternative versions of this song over the years, so it's a little easier to accept changes on this track.)

If you're not really into ska, or you're curious to discover what it's all about, Ska Chartbusters is a nice way to get into this genre of music while keeping a musical lifeline tied around your waist. Taking on such a diverse collective of artists was a dangerous feat, but with the rare exception, all the bands on this set not only succeed, but they dare to stake some kind of claim on these songs.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wolverine / SPV Records, and is used for informational purposes only.