In early 2014, the announcement finally came that the Led Zeppelin catalogue was to be reissued with bonus material, with the first three albums potentially appearing before the summer. Prior to this exciting announcement, the only extra material Zeppelin fans had seen officially includes a couple of extra tracks on two box sets, a couple of live recordings and a few extra tracks inserted into the running order of the band’s live opus ‘The Song Remains The Same’. Meanwhile, almost every other major rock artist saw their catalogues reissued with bonus materials galore, and in some cases – The Who and Hendrix, especially – several times over. Having been denied this treatment for so long, the idea of the entire Zeppelin catalogue being overhauled and awarded bonus discs of unreleased material provided much cause for celebration.
Following Eric Clapton’s 1992 appearance on ‘MTV Unplugged’, in terms of inspiration, his recorded output floundered for two decades. While three albums of blues covers (one made up of standards, two of Robert Johnson numbers) are full of enjoyable moments, the rest of his post- ‘Unplugged’ work hardly ever hints at any former glories. At best (as with parts of 2001’s ‘Reptile’), these albums represent a once-fiery musician drifting into late middle age with wishy-washy results, while at worst (1998’s ‘Pilgrim’ and 2010’s ‘Clapton’), the albums are full of easy listening material which the younger Clapton possibly wouldn’t have given the time of day. On his pompously packaged eponymous release of 2010, the clean and sober Eric Clapton had a fixation with 30s and 40s jazz standards and – in comparison to his much younger self – had largely become a musical irrelevance. A somewhat legendary irrelevance, perhaps, but fact is, ‘Clapton’ (the album) presented very little that would interest anyone but the most died in the wool fan…and even some of those found the record to be often forgettable.
Following a string of DIY records, on the appropriately titled ‘Girls’, Orange County hardcore punks Vultures United pay tribute to works originally performed by female fronted acts. And that’s not all: in addition to the half-dozen covers which make up the bulk of this release, the band have also included a few self-penned instrumental segues. Largely made up of keyboard noodlings and drones, ‘Girls’ doesn’t always necessarily benefit from these distractions. However, since each one is named after the performer that follows, it appears a more than reasonable idea from a conceptual point of view.
With regard to those covers, Vultures United’s re-working of Bjork’s ‘Army of Me’ is an instant classic. Since it had already been given the alternative metal treatment by Powerman 5000, this tune has already proven to be easily malleable, but even Powerman’s best attempts don’t match the ferocity of VU’s offering here. The hardcore punk riffs are like concrete blocks to the skull, matched with vocals full of throat-bursting intensity. Bubbling underneath, a new wavish keyboard is on hand to remind the listener of the electronic bias of the 1994 Bjork hit, but does little to soften the otherwise uncompromising nature. In short, this is a job well done from all concerned. Equally enjoyable, a punky romp through Best Coast’s ‘Summer Mood’ brings out the best in the Vultures’ musical abilities. Between the distorted vocals and meaty riffs, this tune somehow sounds as if it was made to be a hardcore classic, though it is no longer especially summery… It would be great to find out what Bethany Consentino thinks!
The usually uber-irritating ‘Not My Name’ (a hit in the hands of the bewilderingly untalented Ting Tings) gets beefed up and – naturally – improved. The simple riff (little more than one chord) adopts a hardcore punk stance – with unavoidable metal chug, while the dumb lyric moves from sounding twee to threatening…in a fun way. A really oddball choice, ‘He Needs Me’ (as made famous by Shelley DuVall in the oft-panned ‘Popeye’ movie), presents the first of a couple of times this release really misfires. The slower approach combined with deliberately discordant vocals makes this incredibly hard listening all round. If you can make it past the first minute or so, the bass sound is terrific and nearing the end, xylophonesque percussion comes as a big surprise, so it’s not a complete dead duck. Perhaps – and this the most likely – ‘He Needs Me’ just wasn’t that good a song to start with anyway. Let’s face it: even Fat Mike and co gave this a wide birth when putting together Me First & The Gimme Gimmes’ album of film and show tunes.
A high speed romp through the X Ray Spex classic ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours’ takes a great trashy punk number, toughens it up and gives it a Dwarves style send off, at least musically, while – as always – the lead voice opts for a more extreme delivery. Often cited as one of the first wave of punk’s essential cuts, thankfully VU don’t trash it. Their sledgehammer delivery should be of huge appeal to most punk fans. A left-field choice, the Jackson Browne-penned ‘These Days’ brings the cassette edition (yes, cassette!) to a close with a world of gang vocals. While the arrangement is perhaps the release’s weakest overall – something not entirely helped by the vocal approach, resembling a raucous sing-along with friends – it doesn’t necessarily sit so comfortably with the rest of the material either… Although made famous via a recording by Nico, how would Jackson feel about having been considered one of the “girls”? He’s probably not so worried – after all, he did once forget he actually played on the Nico recording!
Released on CD, vinyl EP and cassette, each version of ‘Girls’ has a slightly different track-list [The Cranberries’ ‘Salvation’ appears on the vinyl, Nico’s ‘These Days’ on the cassette, a Bikini Kill track on the CD], but since the key songs are duplicated, you’ll get the three best tracks whichever format you choose. Broadly speaking, ‘Girls’ isn’t much more than a bit of fun, but you should still try and pick up this release if you can, since the Bjork, The Ting Tings and Best Coast songs are well worth the price of admission.