Dec 082010

On her second release, singer/songwriter/pianist Diane Birch unites with neo-soul outfit The Phenomenal Handclap Band for The Velveteen Age, a seven-track cover collection of dark eighties/early nineties cult hits. Album cover aside, however, little here suggests the tunes’ stygian origins. Exuberance, not melancholy, is the dominant atmosphere.

To say Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band reimagine gothic rock as pop would be misleading. Classics of the genre like the Sisters of Mercy’s “This Corrosion” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kiss Them for Me” were rousing pop songs from the start. Rather, Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band reimagine these songs as seventies pop, complete with Motown and doo-wop flourishes. On “This Corrosion,” Sisters’ singer Andrew Eldritch self-consciously refers to his outsider rock as “selling the don’t belong.” By giving the dark side of the eighties/early nineties a retro feel, Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band repackage that same “don’t belong” for a new audience.

Clocking in at a mere three and a half minutes, Birch and co.’s swinging, gospel-tinged rendition of “This Corrosion” cannot scale the heights of the eleven-minute Wagnerian original. They even cut out the laconic lyrical breakdown, which might count as blasphemy in certain subcultural circles. The group fares better on The Cure’s “Primary,” invoking an aura of dark romance in place of the original’s post-punk, bass-driven urgency. Ironically, their Cure cover sounds more like Siouxsie and the Banshees than their Siouxsie and the Banshees cover. Birch and band’s version of This Mortal Coil’s “Tarantula” also stands out. Its up-tempo arrangement appealingly clashes with the macabre lyrics.

Many covers suffer from being sound-alikes of the originals. While some of their experiments are more successful than others, you can’t fault Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band for avoiding staying too close to the script.

The Velveteen Age Tracklist:
[Listen to the first three tracks below]
1. This Corrosion (The Sisters of Mercy cover)
2. Kiss Them for Me (Siouxsie and the Banshees cover)
3. Bring on the Dancing Horses (Echo and the Bunnymen cover)
4. Atmosphere (Joy Division cover)
5. Primary (The Cure cover)
6. Tarantula (This Mortal Coil cover)
7. A Strange Kind of Love (Peter Murphy cover)

1. This Corrosion (The Sisters of Mercy cover)

2. Kiss Them for Me (Siouxsie & the Banshees cover)

3. Bring on the Dancing Horses (Echo & the Bunnymen cover)

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  4 Responses to “Review: Diane Birch with The Phenomenal Handclap Band, ‘The Velveteen Age’”

Comments (4)
  1. FANTASTIC !!!

  2. Being that “Tarantula” is actually a Colourbox song, the version by This Mortal Coil is itself a cover.

  3. I live in the UK, and had never heard of Diane Birch until I saw an ad for this EP pop up on facebook. Being a Siouxsie fan, I had a listen on itunes and prompyly bought it. Some great songs done in an original and very catchy way. I look forward to hearing more by her.

  4. Actually it seems that Eldritch was referring to Wayne Hussey’s songs as “the don’t belong” rather than his own although there could be two meanings there.

    Personally I think Birch’s cover of This Corrosion kicks serious ass.

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