Various Artists

Alvin Lives (In Leeds): Anti-Poll Tax Trax

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The poll tax was a hugely unpopular measure by Margaret Thatcher's conservative government in Great Britain that led to riots in London and other cities during the summer of 1990. Midnight Records, the U.K. indie that had previously pioneered the tribute-album concept, gathered the cream of the era's U.K. indie scene for Alvin Lives (In Leeds), a benefit album whose proceeds went to an anti-poll tax coalition. Interestingly, rather than gather the usual dreary collection of demos and cast-off songs, the album's compilers chose to make it another tribute album of sorts: all 12 songs are interpretations of AM radio hits from the '70s. The results range from brilliant to horrifying, but mostly lean toward the former. Lush transforms the unbearably maudlin "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" into a moving evocation of loss simply by transferring it into their usual gauzy web of sound. Similarly, Robyn Hitchcock rescues "Kung Fu Fighting" by doing a stunningly over-the-top a cappella rendition. Other bands start from a better position by having better songs to begin with; although the Siddleys' version can't touch the classic original, it's hard to go wrong with "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes." Sarah Records stars the 14 Iced Bears do a pretty nifty job with the Grease classic "Summer Nights," too. Unfortunately, Cud's howling version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is simply horrible, nearly as bad as the 1986 version by We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It, and the Corn Dollies take all the magic out of Chic's "Le Freak." Overall, though, the swell outnumbers the swill.

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