So I listened to this because I have Ray Padgett’s book and, though this is one of the more famous tribute albums, I’d yet to hear it.
I don’t know Cohen’s catalogue as well as I know those of some of his contemporaries, but I know the early stuff somewhat well. That being said, this is a pretty idiosyncratic selection, I believe. There are some really obvious choices and there are some choices that, I’m pretty sure, are deep cuts that wouldn’t obviously occur to most people, unless they were really big fans.
As everyone notes, the REM cover is pretty good. I think it’s also among the most famous here.
The McCulloch cover is fine, and I actually find it quite pleasant. I tend to like covers that deviate more. But it’s also been quite some time since I heard the song.
I know I’ve heard “I Can’t Forget” but I don’t remember it. That being said, as others have said, this is a pretty good cover if only because of how Pixies it sounds, as if they wrote it.
I don’t know That Petrol Emotion but, much like McCulloch, they play it pretty safe to my ears. It’s fine until the solo, which is fun.
I don’t know The Lilac Time either, but I like their cover. It’s been ages since I’ve heard the original, but I enjoy the arrangement, even if it’s pretty standard.
“Suzanne” is super faithful but I like the guy’s voice. (Never heard of him.) I listened to the long version (rather than the version on the release) and that is definitely more interesting. (I know they’re just two edited together, I know.)
“So Long Marianne” is the Cohen so I know best, through its rotation on Oldies Radio, I also would see it’s his catchiest, but I don’t know if that’s fair. The James cover is safe but does feel distinct enough to not be rote. That noise at the end doesn’t work, though.
Weirdly, the Cohen song I know second best is “Avalanche,” due to Nick Cave. Murat’s cover is, um, very different than the Seeds’ version, which I appreciate.
“Don’t Go Home with Your Hard On” is the most early ’90s thing here and has dated extremely poorly to my ears. I don’t remember The Triffids sounding like this but it’s been a while.
I don’t know The House of Love either (so many of these artists, I don’t know). And this one, I’m not 100% sure if I’ve heard the original, though I’ve heard covers. I like the vibe of this but I really don’t know how distinct it is. The coda is brief but fun.
Not a huge Lloyd Cole fan, personally, but I don’t mind this. Much like other New Skin songs, I can’t remember off the top of my head if I’ve ever heard the original, though I’ve definitely heard the song before.
I’ve avoided making the obvious joke about Robert Forster, someone I don’t know. I will say, if you’re going to put two versions of this song on a tribute album, it probably should be these two.
Pete Astor is someone else I don’t know. And it’s a song I’m pretty sure I don’t know. But I like the arrangement, which feels distinct. (I think his delivery as likely extremely similar, but at least the arrangement is there.)
Next up is another song and another artist I don’t know. This is probably the 2nd most dated song here, with that organ feeling very late ’80s UK alternative rock. I suspect it’s at least a little different from the original, which is (probably) good.
I don’t love smooth jazz saxophone, 99% of the time. But I don’t hate it here in this version. Pretty safe, if memory serves, but it works reasonably well (I think).
I enjoy the Fatima Mansions cover. It’s one of the better things here.
The Bad Seeds cover is wild, unhinged, and the guy of thing you have to think a project run by a professional music label (rather than a music magazine) would have rejected. I don’t think it works all the time but, at times, it’s one of the best things here, and it’s just really kind of amazing that something like this made it onto a tribute album that has become so prestigious.
And anyone who knows the story of “Hallelujah” knows (or should know) how important the John Cale cover is. It may not be your favourite version of the song but, without this version, there is no “Hallelujah” as we know it, for better or worse. (And you could argue it’s for worse given how many funerals and weddings feature this song. Listen to the lyrics!)
All in all, a pretty good tribute albums and certainly one of the more iconic and important ones of the 1990s. (I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m sure Ray has said it better.)