Review : Jeffrey Lewis - 12 Crass Songs
RollingstonesWhen you come home from a bad day at work, drained by the endless sleaze-storm of the world, there's never been anything like putting on an old Crass record and hearing the anarchist U.K. punks scream their classic "Do They Owe Us a Living?" Until now. Because for some nutty reason, anti-folk songwriter and comic-book artist Jeffrey Lewis has taken a bunch of great Crass songs and given them fresh, funny new musical settings. His voice is full of mild-mannered wit as his acoustic guitar, toy piano, cello and accordion bring out the seething rage of "End Result" and "Securicor."...full text
StylusmagazineThis isn’t normally a cause for concern when the lyrics are as witty as his voice is shitty, but the virtues of his originality, personality, and flair cannot be applied as justification for an album of punk covers. Without his own creative contribution, is a Jeffrey Lewis album still going to be worth the listen? Naysayers may say nay—it’s what they do, after all. But the truth is, Lewis’s latest 12 Crass Songs, despite his numerous technical failings, more than comes up with the goods.
It helps that the source material is strong. My previous materialistic metaphor was an example of why the world needed Crass; the thought structures of capitalism are embedded in our language, and Crass’s brutal but beautiful proto-hardcore demolished these cultural concepts in song like no band before or since. Led by the cruelly-misnamed Steve Ignorant and the wholly appropriate Eve Libertine, Crass destroyed, and in realizing this Lewis made his first step towards a half-decent album of their songs. This is not just “punk covers,” in the awful pop-played-wrong sense, and it’s not a “tribute” album either, eschewing mish-mash and low-grade, talent-raping filler to make room for sharp, insightful reinterpretations....full text
PitchforkmediaCrass, as Scroobius Pip put it in "Thou Shalt Always Kill", were just a band, but they tried as hard as any band ever has to be more. Between 1978 and 1984, they made some extraordinary records-- explicitly political, full of raging wit and anarchist-utopian harangues-- and wrote some great songs in response to the headlines of their moment. But even their best songs depended on their cultural context. What mattered with Crass was the entire package: not just the music, as explosive as it sometimes was, but the way it was a part of their organization, their ideas about politics and economics, their design sense, and the autonomous way they lived their lives. Covering their songs makes about as much sense as covering "The Ballad of John and Yoko".
So jokey NYC singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis making an album of a dozen re-arranged Crass songs is an audacious idea, but it's also a terrible idea. What Lewis has in common with them is frustrated-idealist politics and a penchant for lyrics that rattle on and on. He's a funny lyricist and a good cartoonist, but his recordings are almost entirely a delivery system for words; it's hard to imagine anybody listening to them for their sound. It's also hard to imagine anyone wanting to hear 12 Crass Songs more than once when listening to one of Lewis's "real" albums, or alternately an actual Crass album, is an option....full text
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