Friday 10 May 2024

Lee Aaron - Tattoo Me (2024)

Country: Canada
Style: Pop/Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 26 Apr 2024
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I'm always fascinated by the latest Lee Aaron release, because she has no intention of staying in a single musical genre. Back in the mid eighties when I first heard her, she was singing heavy metal, but softened up into hard rock later in the decade. She's moved through pop, blues, jazz and even swing, shifting back to rock with 2016's Fire and Gasoline. I noticed in 2021, giving Radio On! a 7/10 and its follow up, Elevate, a highly recommended 8/10. I believe this is her sixteenth album and it's happy to do something very different again, comprising a set of eleven highly varied covers.

Covers albums are often inconsistent and highly varied ones all the more so and I have to say right out of the gate that this is definitely one of those. However, the best material is excellent and the opening track plays much better to me than the original. Now, it's one of two tracks I didn't know coming in and the one where I didn't even know the band who recorded it, so Aaron's version was the first one I heard, but I did follow up with the original on YouTube. It's the title track, Tattoo, a song originally recorded by the 77s much later than their name suggests. It's a solid opener that I could happily have believed was an original.

It's not the best song here, that being her take on The Pusher, but it's not far behind it and much of the reason is that it feels like she's taken a song she loves and she's rocking it up with her band who clearly appreciate it too. Another that fits the same bill is Even It Up, the song by Heart, from their Bebe le Strange album in 1980. It's an obvious pick for Aaron and she does it justice, with the help of a band who clearly mean it too. The best and worst thing about this album is that she isn't interested in just recording these obvious picks.

It's the best thing because there are songs here that I wouldn't have imagined would fit Aaron but she tackles them anyway and makes them work. Many of these show up at the end of the album in a quartet by Hole, Elton John, Elastica and the Undertones, but I'd throw in the Alice Cooper cover too. The best of them is Connection, the only Elastica song I know, which is a fundamentally bouncy alt pop song. Especially given all the negative notes I'd jotted down on the way to that one, I would have thought it would be a notable failure, but it isn't. In fact, it's one of the biggest successes of the album, even if it doesn't try to add anything to the original.

It's the worst thing because the less obvious choices don't always work, in part because Aaron has little wish, it seems, to stamp her own authority on them. The best covers in my mind are the ones that grow into something new in a fresh version. Johnny Cash's famous take on Hurt is surely the best example nowadays. It's not that he does it better than Nine Inch Nails, it's that he does it in a very different way and sells it so well that even Trent Reznor says that it's Cash's song now. Aaron has so much variety in her musical background that she could have reinvented these songs in wild ways, if she only chose to do so. For the most part, she chose not to.

The first example is Are You Gonna Be My Girl, the famous Jet single, and Aaron doesn't do a bad job by any metric I can conjure up but it somehow feels wrong anyway. It feels like a karaoke song, as if she's singing live to a recorded backdrop that doesn't seem any different from the original. I would be blown away if she did this at my local karaoke spot, but I'm disappointed by its inclusion here. The same goes for Go Your Own Way, the Fleetwood Mac classic, and Teenage Kicks, the old Undertones gem, famously John Peel's favourite song. She does her job, but there's no reason for these covers to exist. She doesn't add anything.

The songs in between the best and worst are ones like What Is and What Should Never Be, Is It My Body and Malibu. The latter was a real surprise, because it's a Hole song and I'd have thought that Aaron's approach to music was inherently differently to theirs. I'm not a particular fan of the song but this is a strong version of it. The other two have moments, especially early on, where they fall into that karaoke mindset, Aaron's delivery just not right. She brings a sultry approach to Robert Plant and attempts Alice Cooper's sneer, but both fail. However, when those songs ramp up, she's able to gel with the band and suddenly it all works. The longer these run, the better they get.

With a quick mention of Elton John's Someone Saved My Life Tonight as the worst track here, not because Aaron does anything wrong but because I can't stand the original to begin with and she doesn't change my mind on that with her version, I'll get to The Pusher, which is wonderful. What has to be said first is that she seems to be covering the Nina Simone version, even though it was a Hoyt Axton song made famous by Steppenwolf, and that's a good thing because this approach is a real gift for Aaron's vocal talents and she feels more natural tackling this than anything else.

So it's a mixed bag, almost inevitably so. I appreciate Aaron stepping out of her comfort zone with a few of these choices, not that she has a particularly restrictive comfort zome. She surprised me with the Hole and especially the Elastica songs. However, the best songs are primarily the easier choices, Tattoo and Even It Up and especially The Pusher. I just wish she'd have tried to make these songs her own, rather than merely demonstrating that she can sing them. Of course she can! She's Lee Aaron. But I'm going to leave these wondering how What Is and What Should Never Be would sound like as a swing song, even though that's not what she and her band deliver here.

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