If you’ve ever seen New York’s finest ska exports The Slackers live, you’ll know that they’re not afraid to throw a few covers into their set – this wearing of hearts on sleeves being part of their soulful charm. As such a full album of covers is not an unexpected move, although some of the choices are. The album kicks off with live favourite, ‘Attitude’ by the Misfits, and works just as well here as it does in a sweaty dive venue; they’re probably the only band who could attempt a ska/soul version of this song, but with Glen Pine’s voice it works brilliantly. Remember in the early years of the millennium, when bad ska punk bands made themselves even less bearable by churning out ‘zany’ covers of cheesy pop songs? Well there’s none of that here, and the band’s laid back rocksteady reworking of ‘Like a Virgin’ is a straight up homage to the ageing ‘queen of pop’, before the band launches into a full on ska version of the Sonics’ classic ‘Strychnine’. As much as I hate picking out one particular album track as a highlight, within two listens this is already one of my favourite Slackers’ songs, it fucking swings and I defy you not to dance!
This is followed by a duo of sixties soul classics inflected with a classic Slackers swing sound; the Four Tops Motown hit ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’ and the Box Tops’ much covered ‘The Letter’. This nod to the band’s soul roots is followed by another surprise choice, in the form of Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ played with a soulful precision, and then another 60s hit, Wayne Fontana’s ‘Game of Love’. Next up is a cover of ‘Ganbare’ by Japanese pop punk group the Blue Hearts; I couldn’t comment on the original as I’ve never heard it, but here it’s a great piece of ska oddness. The album begins drawing to a close with two songs which bring to the fore a 70s rock influence – ‘Jeepster’ by T Rex and the Rolling Stones ‘Bitch’. Of these two the latter is by far my preference, but then I can say the same of the originals. A dubbed out remix of Jagger and co.’s swaggering blues number is a stroke of genius, as is the final track; Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Volunteer’, played fairly faithfully in comparison to the rest of the record.
Covers albums are always going to be a risky proposition, with the possibility of grave-turning analogies always close to the fore; but with ‘The Radio’, The Slackers have shown that they can ably rise to the challenge and do justice to an eclectic collection of classics. I cannot recommend this album highly enough if you have any interest in music in general!