Music News

The Hot Rats: Turn Ons, in "Nothing Not New"

Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Artist: The Hot Rats
Title: Turn Ons
Release date: January 19, 2010
Label: Fat Possum

Who knew Phoenix was subject to tornado warnings? And what's with all this rain? No sign of the sun for the past five days? This weather makes you want to stay inside, curl up, and surround yourself with the comfortable and the familiar -- your favorite food, movies, music.

For the next year, I can't touch my musical "comfort food." So I was looking forward to circumventing the rules of "Nothing Not New" with the new record by a new band called The Hot Rats, which has just released a collection of cover songs, presumably this band's own musical comfort food, the stuff that influenced them. That stuff includes songs by The Sex Pistols, Roxy Music, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Beastie Boys, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, The Kinks, The Doors, and others.

Sometimes projects such as Turn Ons come off as a lark, an easy way to get product in the fans' hands, or a way to fulfill the dreaded Contractual Obligations. Not sure what Hot Rats' motivation was in making Turn Ons, especially given that this is their debut record. Maybe they're going to wind up doing a Detroit Cobras thing and make a career out of playing other artists' music. I'm not sure whether this record will have any staying power, but for now, it provides a nice break from all the indie stuff I've been listening to.

Turns out Hot Rats is a side project for two of the guys from the British band Supergrass. I vaguely remember seeing a video by them a long time ago, but I couldn't tell you what their hits are or what they even sound like. Doubt it's much like Hot Rats, which employs a stripped-down, garage-rock approach to many of these songs. The guy who produced some Radiohead records, Nigel Godrich, produced Turn Ons.

The record opens with a bang, a nearly unrecognizable take on The Velvet Underground's "I Can't Stand It." Hot Rats turn one of VU's poppier songs into a piece of menacing, dirty blues. It's probably the best song on the record, but there other high points: a decent, Beatles-esque pass at "Bike," a tune by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd; a huge-sounding, better-than-the-original version of The Doors' "Crystal Ship"; a classy version of Squeeze's "Up the Junction"; and a funny reading of The Sex Pistols' "EMI," which is all down-stroked acoustic guitar and the drummer bashing away at his crash cymbal, with the song's bridge played on piano. I can totally picture these guys in the studio, smiling at themselves during the "EMI" playback.

I love The Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)" as much as the next guy, but it's one of those songs I feel I never need to hear again. Thankfully, Hot Rats has totally reimagined it, and now it sounds like The Who's "I Can See for Miles."

Nothing on this record is lame, but some covers just don't work as well as others, despite the band's best efforts. For instance, countless artists have covered Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" with similar results -- in other words, no one's been able to improve on the original; same thing goes for "Damaged Goods" -- even with Hot Rats' Violent Femmes-esque take, nothing will beat Gang of Four's original; "Love Is the Drug" sounds a lot like Roxy Music's hit version, so what's the point there?; Bowie's "Queen Bitch" is okay but not a standout (though the Hot Rats singer's voice does remind me a little of Bowie's). In fact, I should point out that the guy has a really cool voice, kind of a Bowie/Jack White/Marc Bolan hybrid, and can pull off a lot of different vocal styles.

If you like to hear how artists interpret other artists' work (which I do), you may find a place in your collection for Turn Ons. For the rest of you, this record may seem like a totally pointless endeavor.
What's your opinion on stuff like this? What are your favorite cover versions? Drop a comment in the space below.

Best track: "I Can't Stand It." Also, The Kinks deep, deep cut "Big Sky" is a nice touch.
Rotation: Heavy, for now.
Deja Vu: Guns N' Roses' The Spaghetti Incident? (but Turns On has a lot more interesting musical ideas than The Spaghetti Incident? ever did)
I'd rather listen to: Gang of Four's Entertainment! or The Who's Sell Out or Elvis Costello's This Year's Model
Grade: B+

Monday in "Nothing Not New": Delphic's Acolyte

The "Nothing Not New" Archives

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett