Driving Mrs Satan – Popscotch
In a musical climate where precious few seem to have a unique selling point any more, Driving Mrs Satan stand like a beacon of unique-ness amid a sea of the turgid and the grey. It’s quite a USP too; hailing from London and Naples, they share a love of heavy metal. Not that unique, I hear you cry – but there’s more. They turn that love into shimmery indie-pop versions of tracks by some of metal’s greatest acts. To quote the sleeve notes for Popscotch, Driving Mrs Satan “Make room for quiet in the history of heavy metal”. If you’re curious, I don’t blame you – I certainly was too.
As Popscotch is a covers album, I came to write this review facing a bit of a quandary. To review it as being the covers album that it is, drawing the inevitable links between the source material and the band’s versions, or to review it as an album in its own right? The answer in short is neither; it’s perhaps better to approach Popscotch as an album of not cover versions, but one of re-imaginings. A little like Hollywood’s never ceasing desire to remake almost every decent film made in the last thirty or so years.
It’s undoubtedly an interesting idea; taking classic tracks by some of the world’s best metal acts cov… er, re-imagining them as breezy indie folk numbers. Sadly though the resultant eleven tracks give very mixed results and most suffer from the same unfortunate affliction; in nearly every case the lyrics are stripped of any conviction and substance. At worst, they are rendered cringe inducing. The worst offender is the cover of Metallica’s ‘Battery’ which in the hands of the recent Glastonbury headliners is an aggressive exercise in the art of the rhyming couplet, but in the hands of Claudia Sorvillo the song’s barrage of harsh adjectives are completely stripped of any menace and as a result sound downright peculiar. This point isn’t helped by the overtly twee instrumentation on the track either; it opens with a breezy flotilla acoustic guitars and la la la’s fluttering into your ears, clashing horribly with the opening lines of “Lashing out the action, returning the reaction, weak are ripped and torn away”. It sounds like the soundtrack to a particularly cheesy shampoo advert.
Popscotch mercifully doesn’t get any worse, although in places it comes perilously close. Anthrax’s ‘Caught In A Mosh’ is mutated into something that sounds like a Panic At The Disco B Side, Motorhead’s ‘Killed By Death’ sounds like Massive Attack on a bad day and ‘Hells Bells’, when stripped of AC/DC’s usual OTT bombast, is turned into something rather dull.
Happily though, it’s not all bad news. The album opens with the band’s take on Helloween’s ‘I Want Out’, and whilst the music is forgettable, Sorvillo somehow manages to retain the urgency in the source material’s lyrics and you really believe her conviction when she reaches that self affirming chorus. The breathy, seductive quality in her voice too makes Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ into something rather good, at least until the chorus arrives. Mercifully, the second half of the disc is sparse on moments that make you want to reach for the skip button (although you won’t be reaching for the repeat button either.) Iron Maiden’s ‘Can I Play With Madness’ is passable, although it lacks the harmonised, multi tracked vocals that gave the original its appeal. Slayer’s ‘South of Heaven’ is transformed into a soulful, mellow tune that could easily be performed in a smoky jazz club, as is Faith No More’s ‘From Out Of Nowhere’.
Whilst the concept behind Popscotch is an interesting one, it sadly doesn’t quite work. Whilst the instrumentation and song arrangements are mildly interesting, they aren’t unfortunately engaging – and whilst I have no doubt there are people out there who would levy the same criticism at the material Driving Mrs Satan have used as inspiration for Popscotch, these original versions all have two things in common. Energy and attitude – absolute sackfuls of it. It’s these attributes that makes them great, and sadly they haven’t quite made it into Driving Mrs Satan’s versions.
What the band do have, though, is enthusiasm – listening to Popscotch, you can hear it bursting through each immaculate chord and each sleepy chorus. Also they crucially have a real love for both genres they’ve mashed together here, and this too becomes vividly apparent from the first listen. Ultimately though, that doesn’t rescue the album entirely from the doldrums. At the very least Popscotch is a great conversation starter and a reasonable record to chill out to if you don’t fancy the balls out aggression of the metal versions. These two points alone save it from being relegated to back of the shelf status.
Popscotch is out now via Agua Loca Records.
Thanks once again to Ellie Clarke from Prescription PR for sending me the album for review.