Or, "Grant Lee Phillips Sings All Your New Wave Favorites". The theme of this album is summed up simply enough in its title, on which Phillips covers 11 songs that should be immediately familiar to anyone who had their ear tuned to college radio or MTV's The Cutting Edge during the early to mid-'80s. The list of artists covered is certainly stellar enough -- the Smiths, the Cure, Pixies, R.E.M., Joy Division, Nick Cave, Robyn Hitchcock, the Psychedelic Furs, and more. However, rather than going for a spunky, electric sound here that might match the style of the originals, Phillips' arrangements are measured and atmospheric, dominated by acoustic instruments and a gentle approach that blends nicely with the smooth, bittersweet flow of his vocals. While this isn't the way you remember hearing these songs back in the day, Phillips reaches into the material with an obvious love and respect, and he finds a beautifully melancholy essence in these tunes that makes for a satisfying marriage of artist and material. (Oddly enough, the song that makes the transition least comfortably is also the first cut on the album -- "Wave of Mutilation" does not get Nineteeneighties off to a flying start, though "Age of Consent," which follows, is a major improvement.) Phillips produced the album and plays most of the instruments himself, and his feel for the material is all but faultless; while it's hard not to be overtaken with a sense of nostalgia while listening to this album if you knew these songs from back in the day, Phillips pulls them out of their original context and in the process reveals their strength is more timeless than one might have imagined. In short, you don't have to have a sideways haircut to like this.
by Mark Deming