When presented with a series of cover albums called Guilt by Association, one might imagine them to be filled with ironic takes on cheesy pop songs; that threat’s only increased by a volume that promises to present only songs that fall under the classification of “hair metal,” perhaps the most mocked of all genres. Fortunately, Guilt by Association Vol. 3 betrays no sign of hipster bands mocking songs that some people (this reviewer) legitimately love. Instead, it finds a collection of young, talented acts embracing some admittedly overwrought material from the 1980s and truly making it their own. By any metric, Guilt by Association can be considered a success.

GBA impressively accomplishes two things that make it a must-listen. First, in most cases listeners probably won’t find themselves thinking about the original recordings of tracks presented here. The selected artists fully throw themselves into these renditions; it sounds like they want to be making this record, which creates a totally pleasurable listening experience. These 14 acts display a variety of unique interpretations that end up feeling like organic interpretations of the lyrics at hand, whether it’s the soulful, piano-fueled stomp of Madison Square Gardeners’ “Nothing But a Good Time” or Mike Viola’s sparse, chilling “Round and Round.” Only on one or two tracks do the covers come up even slightly lacking; while Bird of Youth presents an enjoyable “I Remember You” (rhythmically mashed-up with Modern English’s “I Melt with You”), they don’t come close to matching the vocal prowess of Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, and their vocal delivery makes that absence noticeable. Still, even that doesn’t really ruin the track, and it probably stands more as a testament to Bach’s incredible pipes than any shortcomings in those who cover him.

Moreover, the artists produce an album listeners could end up loving even if they’ve never heard the originals. Were you to give this compilation to a teenager whose musical tastes were just starting to develop, he or she might find absolutely no reason to snicker at the once-ridiculous Kip Winger chorus “she’s only seventeen.” Here, Gold Lake gives that song a contemplative treatment in the style of Adele and it becomes something of a serious look at age-unbalanced relationships (an impressive feat). Similarly, My Cousin, The Emperor reworks Extreme’s “More Than Words” into an alt-country ballad that feels totally natural. Almost every track on GBA can stand proudly on its own merits even if listeners don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of Whitesnake and Def Leppard (which is quite probable).

Despite this record’s excellence, for the hair-metal obsessed whose musical tastes haven’t really left the ’80s, GBA may not be quite as positive an experience. Only one track – Helmet’s cover of Loudness’ “Crazy Night” – remains heavy, though a few electronic takes on songs here sound like they come from other popular ’80s genres. But listeners with an open mind and open tastes should find plenty to enjoy about GBA. You could say this record is “nothing but a good time.” But you probably shouldn’t.

Guilt by Association: Vol. Three Tracklist:
01. Canon Logic, “Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone” (Cinderella cover)
02. Gold Lake, “Seventeen” (Winger cover)
03. Madison Square Gardeners, “Nothing But a Good Time” (Poison cover)
04. theSTART, “Kickstart My Heart” (Motley Crue cover)
05. Helmet, “Crazy Night” (Loudness cover)
06. Mike Viola, “Round and Round” (Ratt cover)
07. Elk City, “Heavy Metal Love” (Helix cover)
08. Malibu Shark Attack!, “You Give Love a Bad Name” (Bon Jovi cover)
09. Common Rotation, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (Twisted Sister cover)
10. Bird of Youth, “I Remember You” (Skid Row cover)
11. Murder Mystery, “Photograph” (Def Leppard cover)
12. My Cousin, The Emperor, “More Than Words” (Extreme cover)
13. The Old Ceremony, “Here I Go Again” (Whitesnake cover)
14. Farrah, “The Final Countdown” (Europe cover)

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