It is of little surprise to anyone who has breezed through these pages before that I’m rather partial to the Cover Version. Reasons for my love of this particular form of expression are many and have no doubt been mentioned before – a new slant on old favourites, a previously unseen roadmap/blueprint from much-appreciated artists, a way of discovering previously unknown material or sometimes just goofing off for entertainment purposes. Out of the previously-listed criteria for what I usually enjoy from a collection of someone doing a bunch of songs by other people, I honestly have no idea where to file this one, and the way that I went through the first listen was fraught with myriad temptations that would have meant that it would have taken several hours to get from one end to the other.
Mark Kozelek of course isn’t averse to knocking out the odd cover version (and knocking them out of the park), and something particular to his treatments of classics, favourites and assorted others is that they are well and truly bent around his own personal outlook to the point that they are scarcely recognisable as covers, fitting in cuckoo-like among his own body of work. Like Rats is sort of a continuation of this; thirteen songs from a very broad church that make perfect sense here due to the way that they have been reconstructed, and a palpable sense of the joy of reinterpretation and making completely new versions that retain those precious few moments of “Hang on, I know this one…”
As opening triumvirates go, covers of Bad Brains, Godflesh and Ted Nugent don’t seem on paper to fit together. After being filtered through Kozelek’s unique psyche and style of performance, and it’s as perfect an introduction to a record as you could ask for. To these ears, the punk covers on here seem to be the most fun as the originals were delivered with such intensity that lyrics were largely undecipherable. Here, they’re delivered with wistful clarity, lending Bad Brains’ I a sweet edge of sadness, the Misfits’ Green Hell (one of two Glenn Danzig-penned tunes on here) a sense of the calmly ridiculous and the Dayglo Abortions’ I Killed Mommy the curious detachment of a serial killer, making it a far creepier rendition than its antecedent.
It appears to be an affectionate trawl through a much-trawled record collection, with old classics such as Maxine Nightingale’s 1975 disco hit Right Back To Where We Started From through prog (both Yes and Genesis are represented) and punk and ending up in the present with Bruno Mars’ Young Girls and Josh Turner’s Time Is Love, each sounding just as intrinsic a part of this whole album as all the others, thanks in no small part to the way that they are almost all reworked to sounding as if Kozelek had written them in the first place. Two tracks wander slightly from this path: The Descendents’ Silly Girl and Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe retain much of their original sound, the former especially holding onto the adolescent romantic desperation that made it sound so good back in the mid-1980s.
It works so well as both a covers record and a Mark Kozelek album that it can be listened to in any mood – there’s good humour to be found in the song choice and alternate readings, and there’s also the far-gazing melancholy that Mark brings to most things he does to add to the occasional nostalgia (and associated memories) that each song evokes in the listener. And it set me off listening to each original (much-loved and previously unheard-of) in turn, which makes for strange listening in itself as well as making this post 24 hours late. If you only buy one Mark Kozelek-related album this year (and it’s not like there isn’t a choice at the moment!), make it this one. And then track down all the others anyway.