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Plays the Hits!

Sexton Blake

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Album Review

If this album art doesn't bring back fond memories of a time when neon pink and Ray-Bans were the in style, you may be too young to be interested by the retro aspect of Plays the Hits, but if you had an affinity for listening to FM radio on your boom box as a kid and want to stay relevant with the newfangled music of today, this might be right up your alley. Imagine an '80s K-Tel compilation album performed by Pinback or Yo La Tengo — the disc is a bit like that, and is surprisingly entertaining. Sexton Blake covers pop classics like Kim Carnes'"Betty Davis Eyes" and strips them down to minimal compositions of Casio beats, cheap guitars, Fender Rhodes, and dreamy vocals. In Josh Hodges' reconstruction, he masterfully breathes new life into songs that were destroyed over time by excessive radio play. The Moog Cookbook had a similar concept, but it relied on a camp factor to succeed by using synths and vocoders. Hodges manages to sound sincere and sentimental throughout, even when he whispers lyrics by Paula Abdul or LL Cool J. Other alternative songwriters (Ben Folds for instance) have covered rap songs before, but it's rarely been tackled without a comedic flair; here he sounds as melancholy as Elliott Smith when he sighs and sings "I Need Love." Once it's stripped of its dated, gated drums and cheesy keys, even a trite song like Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True" is revised to be a shoegazer's paradise with guitar drones and lush, airy vocals. Some choices, like Elton John's "Daniel" or ELO's "Evil Woman" were probably better left in their original form, but for the most part, the updated versions generally serve their intended purpose and revitalize the melodies lovingly. It's good clean fun, served straight-faced for your pleasure, and even if you don't like indie rock, this disc is probably worth purchasing just to play an ironic game of Name That Tune with your friendly neighborhood hipster.

Plays the Hits!, Sexton Blake
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