While On Your Sleeve is obviously a labour of love, on the whole it's simply just...
Adam Webb 2008-04-07
For an artist in their songwriting prime, the covers album is always a great risk. Typically the sign of creative drought or contractual obligation, as a rule they rarely work. When they do, the listener is sent either scurrying back to the originals, reminded of the greatness of a certain song; or forced into reappraisal, to check again a hitherto unrecognised work of art. For every hundred David Bowie Pin Ups, only the odd moment of genuine transcendence (ie Cat Power's Jukebox) slip on through.
By choosing the most predictable sources of raw material, Jesse Malin wires himself to mission impossible from the outset, with the New Yorker aiming to tackle a combination of rock standards (Walk On The Wild Side, Everybody's Talking, Wonderful World) alongside more contemporary songs by The Hold Steady and The Kills.
He might just about scrape away with the latter, but treatments of his heroes' work such as The Clash's Gates Of The West or The Stones' Sway are awkward. The latter, especially, reducing the sticky-fingered original to an electronic-based travesty. Aiming for Suicide, the results are more Bontempi. Elsewhere, the interpretations bring to mind images of throwing poses with a tennis racquet in front of the bedroom mirror. In the case of Neil Young's Looking For A Love, the pay off line ''when she starts to see the darker side of me'', is dispatched with the over-wrought intensity of a bit-part actor.
After 14 tracks, you're left wondering at quite who this album is aimed? Malin is a gifted songwriter in his own right, and a witty and erudite performer. His previous albums are strong. But shorn of his strengths, he lurches perilously close to the brand of professional Noo Yawker as personified by Huey Morgan and his godawful Fun Lovin' Criminals. Let's put it down as a career blip. For while On Your Sleeve is obviously a labour of love, on the whole it's simply just laboured.