POWERMAN 5000 – Copies, Clones & Replicants

There must have been something in the water during the summer of 2011.  Both Puddle of Mudd and Scott Weiland released covers albums during the same week, and then a third one dropped from nu-metal’s often unsung heroes Powerman 5000.  Obviously covers albums are easy to knock out since bands don’t need to endure a laborious writing process, but aside from that, is there any real point?  They’re rarely releases which bring huge amounts of credibility.

Puddle of Mudd’s covers album saw Wes Scantlin and his foolhardy chums bravely tackle tunes which more sensible musicians would have never dared attempt covering.  Naturally, for the most part, they failed…but they went down fighting.  Luckily, using a bit of savvy, on ‘Copies, Clones & Replicants’, Spider One and his band of cohorts (now a completely different band to that of their ‘Tonight The Stars Revolt!’ heyday) have chosen songs which (mostly) don’t sound too contrived when melded into their own image.

It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to realise that with a small amount of tweaking and some metallic guitar work, Devo’s ‘Whip It’ is almost an ideal choice of cover for Powerman. Those chuggy guitars which run through the core of the version featured here are superb, especially when pitched against some retro synths.  In terms of direct comparison to the Devo cut, it’s a little faster.  More importantly, the added guitars give an extra sense of urgency, without losing any of the spikiness of Mark Mothersbaugh’s original vision.  Despite how much it still resembles Devo’s well known hit, it’s a safe bet to say that Devo’s over-protective fans would not especially be happy with the end result.  Still, that’s probably nothing compared to how Van Halen fans are likely to respond to a cover of ‘Jump’, which here, gets a complete dressing down and reimagining.  There are synths throughout, but they’re of the bleepy kind and make no attempt at reproducing VH’s original keyboard line, at least to begin with.  The main riff becomes a bouncy, danceable, slab of metal which is essentially classic Powerman.  Spider One’s gruff vocal does its usual sneering thing and it’s surprising how well the whole package works.  There’s a fine line between sacrilege and genius, it seems.  Even better is a slightly aggressive version of INXS’s ‘Devil Inside’, which retains most of the original tune structure.  The keyboard sounds can be slightly intrusive, but the great riff makes up for that.   There’s little else to add, except to say this always was a superb number and this slightly more metallic rendition is really no exception.  It’s surprising that it’s not been covered more often.

M’s 80’s hit ‘Pop Musik’ gets a reasonable rendition, which is greatly improved without the cheesy female backing.  The required amount of handclaps and analogue synths (clearly on lend from Grandmaster Flash) really capture the spirit of a bygone musical age.  Against those sounds, choppy rhythm guitars are on hand to remind those listening that Powerman 5000 is a full band and not just Rob Zombie’s little bro and some synths, as it often sounds on this particular track.  Since the guitars are still a little underused, those approaching this number expecting a metalfest are going to be sorely disappointed.  Thinking about it, maybe Spider should have called on his big brother to shout his trademark ‘Yeah, yeah, motherfucker!’ a few times – it could have added to the fun, and it definitely would have given things a new slant.   The Cars‘ ‘Candy O’ is somewhat ordinary in translation, with only a few guitars added for extra chunkiness.  Even though it’s not this collection’s most inspiring cover, it’s clearly important to Spider; after all, it’s not the first time a Cars song has made its way onto a Powerman 5000 disc.

T Rex’s ‘20th Century Boy’ has it’s guts torn out and played at twice its normal speed in what is possibly the most typically “classic” sounding Powerman 5000 performance here.  Oddly, it kind of suits being trashed up in this fashion, especially when it allows Velkro and Evan 9 chance to really cut loose on their guitars (thus balancing out a few of the other synth heavy tunes).  ‘Electric Avenue’ by Eddy Grant is tailor made for the darkwave/synth metal treatment and the band hit a great groove throughout.  It’s a great track, but despite best efforts, it doesn’t match the brilliance of Skindred’s cover from their ‘Sharkbites and Dogfights’ LP.

The award for “almost unrecognisable” goes to a treatment of The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’, which strips the anger and replaces the well known guitar riff with dreary darkwave synths and a somewhat maudlin pace.  It shouldn’t work, yet somehow it’s very cool in its own right – like the cover tune Marilyn Manson never got around to recording.  The Church’s ‘Under The Milky Way’ is less fortunate, at least in part, as the band take a once dreamy tune and reduce it to a mechanical mess.  It’s only when semi-acoustic guitars and some tuneful keyboards appear during the chorus section that it gains any kind of redemption.

Naturally, not everything here works completely (The Church number is a bit scrappy and a take on David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ is hugely uninspired), but Spider One and his gang sound like they had a good time recording these tunes.  Likewise, they’re often fun to listen to.  Covers albums are rarely “must have” items, but ‘Covers, Clones & Replicants’ comes pretty damn close.  Through some good musical tastes and a bit of good fortune, Spider and his crew survive the covers album “experience” with more dignity than most.

September 2011