Ah, Achtung Baby. An incredibly important album, or so we’re told. So important that a little under two years ago Q Magazine put together a compilation of covers entitled (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) Covered.
The original by U2 isn’t actually an album that I know, and if I’m honest I actually only tracked down this album so I could hear the Depeche Mode track. But in a way, having tracked it down, I feel I should be fair and review it in full, and so here we go. To make this a little more challenging, I’m not going to look up anything about the original album or the artists, so we’ll see where this takes us. Let’s hope I don’t say anything too stupid or rude, and there aren’t too many real U2 fans passing.
The first track is Zoo Station, covered in an industrial rock style by Nine Inch Nails. Since this genre is pretty much what U2 do, it would be interesting to know how different it is. It’s pretty pleasant, but it does drag on a bit at six and a half minutes, including a minute or two of droning feedback in the middle. I guess Zoo Station is a reference to the Zoologischer Garten railway station in the central shopping area of West Berlin.
Second is actually a remix rather than a cover – Jacques Lu Cont takes on one of the huge hits from this album Even Better Than the Real Thing, and rather wonderfully turns it into a modern rock/dance crossover track. I think it’s probably fair to say that this is the best track on this album, melding together the original elements (such as the drumming) with the more contemporary sounds.
Acoustic / folk singer Damien Rice‘s take on One is very good, full of emotion and feeling, although it does rather lack the energy of the original. Patti Smith‘s Unti the End of the World is just about listenable. I wonder what her fans thought of this? Or maybe she’s always as bad as this; I really don’t know.
Then another track where I know the original, albeit not especially well. Garbage have taken Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, and they have turned it into a typical Garbage track. Which is all good and fine – all the ingredients are there for an excellent song. Unfortunately somewhere it slightly misses its mark – the softer verses are pleasant, but the rocky chorus doesn’t quite work somehow.
Which is symptomatic of the whole album really for me – there are lots of great artists, performing great pieces of music, and not doing a particularly great job of it. Depeche Mode suffered a lot of criticism from their fans for So Cruel, but when you listen you realise that, unfortunately, this is entirely right. From the fun growly overloaded synths at the start through to the clicking and bleeping half way through, and with Dave Gahan‘s typically powerful vocal, all the ingredients are there. The end result isn’t bad, but it just isn’t particularly memorable, in any way. As with much of this album.
The original Achtung Baby obviously took a lot of influences from Germany, but don’t take that to mean the pronunciation guide on this album is correct – Ahk-toong Bay-bi would give you an entirely erroneous impression of the name (actually I believe the album title is correctly stylised as (Ǎhk-to͝ong Bāy-Bi) Covered, which I suspect is closer, but I didn’t want to use that everywhere in this post as it would probably quickly start to become illegible to anyone without access to those symbols). I wonder therefore if that’s an in-joke that I’m missing.
Gavin Friday turns up next to do a really adventurous take of The Fly, full of wobbly electronic noises and creaking sounds, and successfully sounding absolutely nothing like the original but also very good at the same time. It’s another strong track, probably second only to Even Better Than the Real Thing on this collection.
Snow Patrol‘s version of the brilliant Mysterious Ways starts off pretty unpromisingly, but builds into a good track towards the end, and then just as it’s getting started it’s over already. Of course, what made the original special was the combination of all its parts, but in particular the guitar effects, of which there is no sign this time around.
Then The Fray take on Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World for one of the less notable tracks on the whole compilation, followed by The Killers doing a pleasant but largely forgettable version of Ultra Violet (Light My Way) and just in case you thought the mediocrity was become a little monotonous, Glasvegas turn up with a largely hideous take of Acrobat.
The final track sees Jack White take on Love is Blindness, again leaving something pleasant but fairly unremarkable behind him. Things get a bit more exciting as he wanders towards the crescendo at the end, but then most of the tracks on this album had something going for them.
The general theme of (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) Covered, then, is “pleasant but forgettable.” As a tribute to a great album, is this really doing its job? I’ll let you decide. At least it’s all for charity.
You can find (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) Covered on iTunes and all the normal download locations. The physical format is probably available second hand too, but of course that’s not for charity…