AC/DC

Driving Mrs Satan – Popscotch (Review)

Driving Mrs Satan – Popscotch

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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.

2.5/5

Popscotch is out now via Agua Loca Records.

Thanks once again to Ellie Clarke from Prescription PR for sending me the album for review.

Gazing into the musical crystal ball… (The QH Jan 2014)

Gazing into the musical crystal ball… (Originally published in The QH in January 2014)

Our retinas are at long last being given a break from gaudy Christmas chintz. Leftover turkey and mince pies seem but a distant memory, the New Year’s Day hangovers have finally subsided and Crème Eggs are already in your local Tesco. Yep, it’s January. The drudgery of the four weeks following festive excess may feel like a lifetime, and the weather certainly isn’t helping. Depressed yet? Yup, me too. Not to worry however, a sure fire way to beat those start-of-the year bouts of soul obliterating misery is to look at the year ahead. Plan a holiday. Dust off those summer clothes. Decide to learn a language. Or in the case of this column, time then to stare forth into the vast chasm of possibility that is 2014, in order to seek out for you some of the new year’s upcoming albums.

It’s shaping up to be a bit of a corker of a year, musically speaking. Beginning the year’s schedule of exciting releases is Iller Than Most, the new record from the hilariously named MC Del The Funky Homosapien. You won’t find this one plonked on the shelves of your local HMV though (yes, it’s still there) – Del has released this one completely free under the name Zartan Drednaught COBRA via SoundCloud. He describes the self-produced record as “fun to listen to, nothing super heavy”. Go forth and check it out. Post-grunge (no, I have no idea what it means either) stalwarts  Switchfoot have a new album heading your way on January 14th about kittens, clouds and clowns. Probably.  Rock cornerstone Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen releases High Hopes on the same day, and on our side of the ocean Sophie Ellis-Bextor releases Wanderlust less than a week later. Out of interest, did anybody know she had actually released anything since 2003 sophomore album ‘Shoot From The Hip’? Came as a surprise to me, put it that way – and I’d bet I’m not the only one. Metallers Within Temptation unleash the highly anticipated Hydra at the end of the month, rounding off January with a blast of symphonic metal histrionics.

Probably the world’s most unlikely pairing release Cheek to Cheek during January too. Go on, take a guess. A fiver says you won’t get it. Give up? Think wrinkly American crooner and arguably the weirdest contemporary pop singer around. No? Alright. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. I’ll give you a moment to process that. I don’t know about you, but I’m tentatively curious.

Desperately trying to cling onto the last vestiges of a genre they helped define in the early 2000s, boorish nu-metal clowns Limp Bizkit are sadly due to release the follow up to 2011’s laughably awful Gold Cobra at some point this month too.  For a band that occasionally had moments of inspired inventiveness early in their careers (take ‘Re-Arranged’ from Significant Other or ‘Boiler’ from Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water for instance) its massively disappointing that their recent output has been such utter tripe. Also noteworthy in 2014’s formative month – for more positive reasons – is Ghosts of Download, the new album from eighties pioneers Blondie. The follow up to 2011’s rather excellent Panic of Girls, this is one to watch out for.

February brings new releases from Katy B, quirky northern indie-ers Maximo Park, the seemingly limitless talent of Ed Sheeran as well as the alliterative Nina Nesbitt, to name but a few. March is big-name fest, with new material from Imogen Heap, Example and Lily Allen. Here’s hoping the turgid cover of Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ isn’t indicative of the rest of the albums content. Inexplicably March will also see the posthumous release of Out Among The Stars by country rebel Johnny Cash.

At the time of writing, the rest of the year is rammed fuller than Robin Thicke’s hate mail inbox with new releases. Heading your way is brand spanking new stuff from rockers AC/DC, The Cult, Enter Shikari and the Foo Fighters, frankly terrifying metallers Arch Enemy and a new record from one quarter of the ‘Big Four’ of metal – namely Anthrax. Ageing pop punkers Bink 182 follow up sombre 2009 album Neighbourhoods this year too, and following suit are the Californian contemporaries The Offspring with what has to be about their 393rd release. We’re also going to be treated to another posthumous release, this time from King of Pop Michael Jackson, and there’s something for the hipsters too; a new opus from the ironically named Fun. Lana Del Rey and Emeli Sande have new stuff in the pipeline, and irritatingly so does Kanye West following up 2013’s collection of odes to intelligence and humility that was Yeezus.

Much for us to get excited about then. Happy 2014, everyone.