There's nothing wrong with a well-conceived gimmick. Pop music relies on them. And a good song is a good song. So the idea of taking a group of minor league artists with general critical success and letting them interpret the songs of platinum super-acts with schlocky pedigrees is an intriguing idea and certainly better than putting together yet another "tribute" disc to an esteemed artist that only comes off as an insult (although, in this post-modern irony-laden day and age, what still qualifies as a real "guilty pleasure?").
The good news here is no one seems to be making fun of their chosen track. Even Bonnie Prince Billy taking on Mariah Carey's "Can't Take That Away" (with cheesy robot drumbeats and dime store synths) sounds sincere. There are no "punk" renditions with the songs sped up and run out of town. I may question how Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You" qualifies alongside covers of Paula Abdul, Spice Girls and Destiny's Child as a "guilty pleasure," but I don't argue with Mike Watt's spirited rendition. But Devendra Banhart's version of Oasis' "Don't Look Back in Anger" is noticeably worse than the original (and, again, Oasis a guilty pleasure?). Jim O'Rourke can't match the silky fluff of the Spice Girls' "Viva Forever." However, former Miracle Legion singer Mark Mulcahy works over Shania Twain's "From This Moment On" without losing her brain-washing hooks. And Petra Haden's a capella take on Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is powerful mischief that will never be as controversial as The Sopranos moment to which the song is now unfortunately permanently tied.
Rob O'Connor writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.