War Child Presents Heroes
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2009, Volume 16, #3
Written by John Metzger
Wed March 25, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
The concept behind War Child Presents Heroes is so ridiculously straightforward that one has to wonder why it wasn’t made the industry standard for benefit albums and tribute sets years ago. To create the effort, 16 veteran artists were tasked not only with selecting a song from their catalogues but also with nominating a contemporary performer to tackle it. Of course, this strategy isn’t without its risks. After all, it must have been daunting for at least a few of these acts to be asked to put a fresh spin upon material that they long have idolized. It is equally treacherous to expect established musicians to pick newcomers who might upstage them. Sure enough, War Child Presents Heroes oscillates between its serviceable and brilliant moments, though, strange as it may seem, it isn’t always easy to distinguish one from the other just by looking at the set’s track listing.
For what it’s worth, War Child Presents Heroes begins in fine fashion. With its distorted harmonica and Gary Glitter-inspired glam beat, Beck’s modernized rendition of Bob Dylan’s Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat surely is the most adventurous and urgent track on the collection. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs was born to cover The Ramones, and although it follows a conventional path, the group’s cover of Sheena Was a Punk Rocker packs quite a punch. Elsewhere, by removing the glimmer of hope that fluttered through U2’s Running to Stand Still, Elbow strikes an air of disquieting devastation, while Lily Allen (with help from Mick Jones) turns The Clash’s Straight to Hell from a protest song into a sensual kiss-off.
Unfortunately, not everything fares nearly as well. Despite its supremely funky groove, Superstition, for example, suffers because Estelle’s vocals aren’t able to match the slippery gymnastics of Stevie Wonder, while Franz Ferdinand sounds utterly stifled by its bombastic, arena-made approach to Blondie’s Call Me. The worst track, however, is unleashed by Duffy. Not only is her rendition of Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die immersed in muted strings, but she also eliminates the song’s thunderous dynamics. Not surprisingly, the result is exceedingly dull.
Overall, however, War Child Presents Heroes contains relatively few missteps, especially in comparison to other collections of its ilk. Even some of its more reverent cuts — such as The Kooks’ giddy take of The Kinks’ Victoria, The Hold Steady’s natural replication of the E Street Band on Atlantic City, and Rufus Wainwright’s hymn-like ode to Brian Wilson’s Smile — prove to be irresistible. Considering that proceeds from the sale of the set will provide assistance to children who have suffered from the atrocities of global conflict, it ultimately is quite simple to overlook War Child Presents Heroes’ tarnished edges. ½
Of Further Interest...
War Child Presents Heroes is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box