Fire & Skill: The Songs of the Jam
This probably seemed like a good idea back in the old days, when the world gave a steaming crap about Oasis: Bros Noel and Liam Gallagher would assemble and bookend a tribute to their rave fave that isn't spelled B-E-A-T-L-E-S, then release it a month before their own long-awaited third LP arrived in bins. Might have seemed a tad obvious, sure, but what about the record biz ain't? Feels like forever since the idea of a Jam tribute began making the rounds, and even then it always had the smack of big fin' joke surrounding it.
Hell of a way to pay homage to one of the late-greats of the '70s and early '80s, gathering the likes of Ben Harper, Gene, Everything but the Girl, and Buffalo Tom -- and letting them take a whack at Jam standards. (What? Lenny Kravitz, Gomez, and the Indigo Girls weren't available?) Actually, the big name here is the Beastie Boys, who team up with Cibo Matto. This pairing alone should scare off any true Jam loyalist. Might as well hurl some dung at the Virgin Mary and let the government crack down on the whole sordid affair -- that, or cue up last year's Clash trib and beg for forgiveness. If the Jam were remembered by all but the most fetishistic postpunks, Fire & Skill might be considered a work of heresy; as it stands this is just one of those records on which some bargain-bin no-names (Gene, Reef, Heavy Stereo, Silversun) and their platinum brethren throw open the coffin and sodomize the corpse till there's nothing left but fetid dust.
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The opener (Liam Gallagher and Steve Cradock's "Carnation") and closer (Noel Gallagher's "To Be Someone," one of the most on-the-nose performances put to tape since Sinatra did it his way) hint at what could have been -- laughable, but listenable. But there's nothing quite as painful as hearing Harper, who's making quite a career out of performing Dead and Hendrix tributes, turn "The Modern World" into an electric fart. Unless it's listening to the Beasties murder "Start!" by suffocating it between lounge-lizard quotation marks. Everything but the Girl dolls up "English Rose" like some long-lost Mel Tormé ballad. Gene remakes "Town Called Malice" in the Smiths' image. Garbage remakes "The Butterfly Collector" in their own. Figures that Paul Weller would give his blessing to this mess by contributing an unreleased Jam (or is that Style Council?) song as a hidden track. It's long been his wish that people would stop talking about the Jam, and nothing will accomplish that faster than this digital whore. -- Robert Wilonsky