VARIOUS ARTISTS – Punk Floyd: A Tribute To Pink Floyd

Tribute albums have always been a good showcase for the strange and interesting. Where else would you find Lisa Loeb singing Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Goodbye To Romance’, or Sonic Youth turning in a pleasingly dreary version of Delaney & Bonnie’s ‘Superstar’ via Karen Carpenter? Or even stumble upon Lemmy growling his way through Queen’s ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ with the help of the terminally dislikable Ted Nugent? Yup. When handled with care, the all-star tribute album can be a breeding ground for all manner of great curios.

Cleopatra Records’ ‘Punk Floyd’ – a punky tribute to Pink Floyd – doesn’t always score quite so highly in terms of musical oddness. It also comes with a feeling that the title came first and that forced someone to follow through with the idea. However, against the odds, when it works, it really works. Naturally, the bulk of the track selection leans heavily on the guitar driven psych and occasional garage rock tendencies of the brief Syd Barrett tenure, since that is the most sympathetic to the guitar wielding, four chord wonders who’ve been gathered here, but even a couple of the later selections are also worth hearing.

In the hands of Peter & The Test Tube Babies, Barrett’s child-like ‘Bike’ barely veers away from the original blueprint, save from the band hammering through the simplistic riffs with three times the volume, but listen more closely and you’ll hear a few glockenspiel like noises lurking beneath the second verse, and there’s the addition of a pleasing, carny inspired riff to close the noise beyond the familiar mechanical weirdness. It’s never bad, but to call it much more than workmanlike would be a genuine stretch. The same can be said for the version of ‘Lucifer Sam’ by MDC. They’ve kept the hard edged twang of the main riff – now sounding more than ever like a sinister Duane Eddy – and cranked the speed, which takes the track into the realms of a post-MC5 garage punk. Although musically solid, this injection of speed offsets the familiar vocal, which now descends into a world of shouting and not much more. Approaching this broadly, it works for the performance in hand, but can seem particularly jarring after years of familiarity with the ’67 original.

Much better – and unexpectedly so – is the classic ‘Brain Damage’, which becomes a full punker when approached by the oft-overlooked D.I. Someone within the band has realised that the unsettling melody actually takes on the presence of an old school siren when played back at speed, and this also facilitates a rhythm that’s perfect for pogoing like it’s 1978 all over again. Even when the melody shifts from its two note assault into the chorus, these lads show off some tight musical chops, since a really busy bass groove lifts the speed driven melody considerably. When prog fans bleat about “punk bands not being able to play”, what they really mean, in their most snobbish way, is that “punk bands are too simple”. This, when approached from a purely stylistic perspective is the work of a punky outfit who are as tight as fuck, driven by an amazing rhythm section who are constantly able to lift this track’s more abrasive elements. In terms of this tribute, this is very much a highlight.

Also excellent, and purely due to playing things as straight as possible, is The Vibrators’ ‘Arnold Layne’. From the outset, the recording shares a brilliant, 60s inspired guitar tone and a sinister edge that calls back to the darker elements of the psychedelic era. The interplay between the wavering guitar and pumping bass is pitch perfect, and even a heavily affected, warbling vocal appears to be sympathetic rather than brash or silly. It doesn’t sound much like The Vibrators’ own work, save for a couple of shouty backing vocals, but that only proves how seriously they – and others – are taking a tribute that could’ve descended into sheer novelty at the drop of a hat. A little harder going in places, but certainly very well intentioned, Chrome’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ blends chaotic garage punk guitar riffs with a wall of synthesised and phased effects, bringing the punk a little closer to Hawkwind circa ‘PXR5’, and in doing so, provides the listener with the best of both worlds. From its garage rock meets psych opening, this gradually morphs into some fine head mangling deep psych and space rock, where weird keyboard sounds and layers of fuzzy guitar battle throughout, and by the time the band returns to the familiar riff for a big finish, these four minutes have been more than worthwhile. Purists might argue that there’s nothing especially punky about this, but to compile a tribute relying so heavily on early Floyd without including ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ would be a travesty.

What nobody really needs to experience is the Anti-Nowhere League trudging through ‘Hey You’ with all the subtlety of a truck, chugging three chords in a lumbering fashion while the vocal merely sing speaks the familiar lyric (although it’s still better than a live and unassisted Roger Waters at the time of release), or Angry Samoans reducing ‘Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)’ into a speed obsessed, drum heavy thrasher. In fairness, this latches onto the sounds of the original US hardcore movement of the early 80s perfectly, and there’s nowt really wrong with the band’s musical skills; it’s just that the material just doesn’t translate well at all. It all ends up being a bit half arsed in the way that several people approaching this tribute might expect from all of its contributions.

In this more enlightened era, it’s high time that Joe King dumped the Queers name, especially as it was chosen in 1982 purely to rile those he saw as an effeminate presence on the New Hampshire arts circuit. His casual homophobia was unpleasant then, and it’s certainly unwarranted now. If stories are to be believed, he’s also harboured some other very questionable views, politically speaking. Trying to divorce the music here from the man, their rendition of ‘See Emily Play’ is one of this set’s more accomplished recordings. The track’s hazy, defiantly 60s jangle fits nicely with the band’s other 60s obsessions (their excellent recording of The ’Oo’s ‘Kids Are Alright’, Beach Boys covers, etcetera), and by playing it pretty much as straight as The Vibrators’ ‘Arnold Layne’, it shares another very melodic cover. Joe’s slightly nasal vocal doesn’t quite have the charm of Syd’s wide-eyed innocence, but he’s able to steer the melody confidently against a slightly louder guitar part throughout, whilst the instrumental moments share a great blend of overdriven guitar and retro organ, resulting in a confident retelling of an old classic.

Another very interesting cover, Jah Wobble & Josh Klein have rebuilt ‘Time’ from the ground up. Opening with a chaotic drum part and an almost danceable rhythm, the track wastes no time in advertising its differences. Moving into the body of the song, a pulsing bass underscores a chopping guitar in a way that carries the busy melody forth, leaving the vocal to not only find its own space, but also convey a very familiar melody. Considering how naturally the ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ classic flows, it’s amazing how well this works, and the fact that Gilmour’s overly familiar solo is replayed pretty much verbatim giving a much stronger link to the past makes this all the more impressive.

In terms of “making it their own”, legendary UK punks The Members supply another of this tribute’s genuine highlights, since they’ve taken the slow and almost grungy ‘Nile Song’ and given it a mighty kick up the arse. The end result isn’t punk in the obvious, most traditional sense, despite The Members being closely associated with trad punk. The combo of speed oriented riffs and layers of fuzz, coupled with a slightly disconnected vocal takes the track into the realms of stoner and space rock. The guitar tones are occasionally reminiscent of Fu Manchu, whilst the head nodding groove and slightly flat voice certainly suggests ‘In Search of Space’ era Hawkwind as an influence, intentionally or otherwise. Since the only thing retained is the lyric, this track very much presents a fresh take on one of the Floyd deep cuts.

Those looking for more will uncover a noisy but fairly pedestrian version of ‘Comfortably Numb’ where punk stalwarts UK Subs have somehow married the track’s vocal melody with a riff that sounds like Sex Pistols’ ‘No Feelings’, a disjointed ‘Breathe’ where the Skids apply a cold approach to the vocal and place that against a post-punk riff which should be better than it is, and even a recording of ‘Money’ by JFA, which blends a post punk bass with a ska rhythm and generally attacks the listener with some very sharp edges over an unrelenting three minutes. This is actually one of those tracks that could’ve been brilliant, but it’s somewhat let down by a very ugly vocal. Still, they get full marks for thinking outside of the box, musically, at least.

For something that could’ve been a genuine car crash, or probably only of real interest for completist fans of those featured, ‘Punk Floyd’ is actually better in practice than it seems on paper. The fact that some of these punks – especially The Vibrators and The Members – have tapped into some different garage and retro rock roots (and very naturally) definitely helps. There’s enough here to keep punk fans happy and some of the more narrow minded Floyd heads suitably riled, making it a win-win for everyone, even if the end product is obviously flawed.

April 2024