2006 will be a busy year for Butch Walker. He plans to release two albums, perhaps simultaneously: one, a poppy singer-songwriter in the vein of 2004’s ‘Letters;’ and a second, an album with a full rock band, which has yet to be named and announced. In the meantime, Walker has given his fan a couple of presents: a live DVD, ‘Live at Budokan,’ recorded in Tokyo opening for Avril Lavigne; and ‘Cover Me Badd.’ The title is a thinly veiled tribute to 80s interracial pop pioneers Color Me Badd and, while the aforementioned aren’t covered here, the six-song EP contains six covers, four recorded live and two in studio. The EP was originally an iTunes-exclusive release, but demand was such that it received a CD release in December; it climbed all the way to #10 in the iTunes album charts.
Anyone familiar with Walker’s recorded material will be aware of his penchant for fast, hard and heavy power-pop, served with a side of over-expressive, virtuosic vocals. Anyone familiar with his live show will be aware of his penchant for speeding all that up and serving it straight with a cocktail of broken strings on toast at midnight. And this is reflected in the choice of tracks on this short collection, as Butch covers his idols Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach, Queen and Paul McCartney, aswell as delivering his unique interpretation of Kelly Clarkson’s 2005 hit ‘Since U Been Gone.’
As mentioned, the EP four live and two studio recordings. One is the previously released ‘Always Something There To Remind Me,’ a Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition made famous by Sandie Shaw. The Marvies re-invented the tune, adding a haunting synth riff that would put Naked Eyes to shame, shifting the mood of the piece from despair to desperation. Conversely, the cover of Paul McCartney’s ‘Live And Let Die’ contains little creative input, hovering somewhere between the ex-Beatles’ version and Guns N’ Roses’ hard rock cover.
Where ‘Cover Me Badd’ comes alive, literally, is with the concert recordings. The four live tracks on offer show the two sides of Walker, condensing the spirit of his shows into roughly sixteen minutes. First up is the pair of Elvis Costello covers, the original ‘Alison’ and ‘A Good Year For The Roses,’ itself a cover by Costello of the classic track by country great George Jones. ‘Alison’ remains largely faithful to Costello’s famous original, though the only sounds to be heard here are the sparse broken acoustic cards and the vocals of Walker and accomplice Todd Wright, leader of power-pop band Getaway Car. The mood is tense; it’s a live show, yet you could conceivably hear a pin drop. Beautiful vocal performances from both men, including a hair-raising duet on the chorus, allow the melody space to breathe and bloom.
Similarly, ‘A Good Year For The Roses’ is completely acoustic (though Walker is now unaccompanied) but the performance is far more relaxed, looser; Walker feels free to play with the melody and the words. ‘Queen Medley’ receives a similar billing, albeit with the accompaniment of a full electric band. He begins the song making fun of, and then impersonating [at length], Vanilla Ice, before launching into Queen and David Bowie’s classic, ‘Under Pressure.’ The other half of the medley consists of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which receives the Butch Walker treatment again, as he treats the audience to a virtuosic vocal and guitar performance, closely mimicking Freddie Mercury’s vocal style, before inviting them to participate in the famous ‘mamma mia’ interlude. This is the essence of the Butch Walker live experience; he’s not just a musician, he’s a performer, and a very good one at that.
Finally, we have the already-mentioned Kelly Clarkson cover, ‘Since U Been Gone.’ Sticking closely to the original by and large, Walker takes a leave from Ted Leo’s book, adding a coda of “Wait! They don’t love you like I love you,” from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Maps’- a cheeky reference to the similarity between the verses. And it works, perfectly.
Unfortunately, the whole is not quite equal to the sum of its parts. Though all the songs, barring the mild ‘Live And Let Die’ cover, show some aspect of Walker’s personality injected into the music of his influences, the variety of settings and recordings makes for an awkward listen, as electric band pop anthems flow into solo acoustic love songs about as smoothly as you’d expect them to. Add to that the six-year span in which the songs were recorded, and you have quite an incoherent release; but, EPs aren’t intended to be coherent ideas. Cover Me Badd is a promotional EP, designed to fuel interest in an artist who’s always been at the brink of the mainstream but rarely closer, and for that the EP is the perfect tool.