Album Review: Field Music – Field Music Play…

By on Monday, 1st October 2012 at 12:00 pm

Not satisfied with releasing one of the albums of the year, garnering a well-deserved Mercury Prize nod along the way, Field Music are treating their fans to a covers-only release. The sound is consistent with their original material, that is to say with a heavy ’70s influence, complete with thuddy bass, crashy drums, and plenty of harmony vocals. The material is admirably varied: the Syd Barrett obscurantism of ‘Terrapin’ is a brief shock of an opener, ‘Born Again Cretin’ introduces swathes of new fans to Soft Machine stalwart Robert Wyatt, and Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Heart’ is the first of two tracks direct from Wallsend Boys’ Club, sumptuously rearranged for live band and duly reverential lead vocal.

The beauty of a covers collection is two-fold: to hear a band you love perform others’ songs gives a deeper insight into their own talent for arrangements, their voices and instruments guided by another’s hand; to hear songs from another era which have been otherwise loved to death, resurrected by a contemporary outfit, is equally as rewarding.

Roxy Music’s ‘If There Is Something’ (stream below) segues nicely into Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’, which loses nothing of the original’s portentious dread – lovers of the song will find little new here, yet its beautiful production emphasises the 70s influence heard throughout the album. The Beatles’ spirit is invoked in ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, not one of the Fab Four’s greatest songs in terms of popularity, and the song most transformed by Field Music’s attentions – their re-imagining of non-linear, stop-start arrangements, and showcases their perfect evocation of 1968 studio technology. Wherever you are recording this stuff, guys – don’t move anywhere! The brief end coda, which belongs to another song, assures they’re not.

The penultimate piece is perhaps the most literal cover, but daresay still unknown to a considerable portion of the target audience. Despite John Cale’s recent fondness for audiences, his material is still relatively unheard outside those who have made the effort to seek him out firsthand; Field Music’s cover of ‘Fear is a Man’s Best Friend’ sounds more like a gentle tribute than a genuine reinvention: Cale is too shrewd for that, his recordings always sounding as if they’ve been made a couple of decades too soon.

Conversely and perversely, ‘Rent’ is a welcome re-imagining of the Pet Shop Boys’ classic. Shorn of the electronics, the yearning lyrical content shines all the more brightly, bolstered by a proper acoustic drum kit, electric guitars of various guises, and who knows who on backing vocals. A welcome update of a classic pop song bookends a fine collection.

If this was the only release by Field Music this year, it would be a notable event. As a throwaway companion piece to their own original material, it’s an unexpected treat. To those who dismiss them as prog rock revivalists, this will neither confirm nor deny those rumours. Yes, the band are prone to semitone chord changes, unexpected pauses, and four or five movements within their songs. A perceived anomaly: pop music has been doing more or less the same for several decades, as this collection amply proves. For a virgin listener, this is an accessible door through which to enter the Field Music world. For a long-term fan, this is a thoroughly decent stopgap, if one were needed; an insight into the Brewis’ rehearsal room guilty pleasures, whilst the protagonists leave South Tyneside for an attempt at world domination.

PS It’s surely a great sex soundtrack.


‘Field Music Play…’, a considered album of covers from Field Music, is out today on Memphis Industries.

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