Jun 282011

Take one part punk, mix in one part glam, one part heavy metal and a whole lot of teenage sass and you get the perfect rock’n’roll band: The Runaways. Remarkably young – the oldest members of the band were 17 upon the release of their eponymous first record – the band dissolved amongst a haze of drug abuse and musical differences after four studio albums. Joan Jett continued to hold the punk torch post-breakup, building a successful career backed by the Blackhearts. Now indie rock’n’punk connoisseurs Main Man Records have compiled an extensive two-disc tribute celebrating the music of the Runaways.

The release is not without controversy. Jett and singer Cherie Currie have sued to block the release complaining that the label has used their names to promote the album without permission. Somewhat fitting given that in their time the stories that swirled around the band often overshadowed the music they made.

For the most part, the album serves as a fitting tribute to the band, and one that should make them proud. Most of the covers manage to preserve the youthful exuberance of the originals, reminding you of how great a band they were and how much fun they were to listen to. Highlights abound: Californian garage punks the Donnas open the set with a fiery take on “Queens of Noise,” including a perfectly simple harmonized guitar solo. Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre) and Peaches join forces on “Dead End Justice,” produced by the Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock. The track features chunky, staccato guitar and a sharp vocal interplay between the two.

New Jersey’s Frankenstein 3000 (and Main Man label standbys) make a significant contribution to the album, not only with their take on the energetic “California Paradise,” but backing the New York Dolls’ David Johansen in fine form on “Blackmail.” Cherie Currie herself makes a surprise (given the lawsuit) appearance, reprising her lead vocal on “American Nights,” but it’s an archival pick from Frankenstein 3000’s 2005 covers album America’s Hit Remakers.

For a two-hour compilation featuring a variety of different artists, there are surprisingly few missteps. Certainly the Canadian all-female metal band Kittie’s grinding, double-bass drummed take on “Fantasies” takes the song far too seriously, stripping it of any fun that may have been in the original. And we could all have done without back-from-the-dead ’70s hard rockers Starz’ hair-metal-to-the-extreme version of “Waitin’ for the Night.” The digital version of the album includes clips of old radio interviews with bandmembers and associates which, while interesting on the first listen, tend to wear thin after a while.

Overall, the set suffers because of its length. The Runaways’ albums, at under 40 minutes each, were concise shots of youthful adrenaline. This set wears out its welcome early in the second disc, not because of poor performances, but just too much of a good thing. With judicious editing down to one disc, this tribute could have left us just as energized as those original albums, instead of slightly worn out.

Take It or Leave It: A Tribute to the Queens of Noise Tracklist:
Disc One:
01. The Donnas, “Queens Of Noise”
02. Shonen Knife,  “Black Leather”
03. The Binges, “I Love Playin’ With Fire”
04. Bebe Buell Bad “Heartbeat”
05. Deena and the Laughing Boys, “Lovers”
06. Frankenstein 3000, “California Paradise”
07. Delerium Tremens, “Wasted”
08. Richie Scarlet, “Wild Thing”
09. Blue Fox, “Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin”
10. The Easy Outs featuring Gar Francis, “Is It Day Or Night”
11. Laura Warshauer, “Little Lost Girls”
12. White Flag, “C’mon”
13. Cali Giraffes, “You’re Too Possessive”
14. Tara Elliot and the Red Velvets, “You Drive Me Wild”
15. Planet Sorrow, “Thunder”
16. Robbie Rist, “Yesterday’s Kids”
17. Serpenteens, “Little Sister”
18. Adolescents, “School Days”
19. Blue Fox featuring Sandy West, “Dirty Magazines”
Disc Two:
01. The Dandy Warhols, “Cherry Bomb”
02. Richard Barone, “Hollywood”
03. Care Bears on Fire with Earl Slick, “Saturday Night Special”
04. Derwood Andrews, “Gotta Get Out Tonight”
05. David Johansen, “Blackmail”
06. The Ribeye Brothers, “Trash Can Murders”
07. Digger Phelps, “Rock & Roll”
08. Toilet Boys, “Born To Be Bad”
09. The Swales, “Midnight Music”
10. Frankenstein 3000 featuring Cherie Currie, “American Nights”
11. F-13, “I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are”
12. The Stay At Homes, “Gettin’ Hot”
13. Kittie, “Fantasies”
14. Starz, “Waitin’ For The Night”
15. Jack Bragg, “Secrets”
16. Clinical Trials, “Don’t Go Away”
17. Kathleen Hanna and Peaches, “Dead End Justice” (produced by Ad Rock)

Buy ‘Take it or Leave It’ at Amazon or iTunes.

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