Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 32

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When Britain's Mojo magazine ran its own brief look back at the Top of the Pops albums in September 2000, one of performances that was singled out for special attention was Volume 32's assault on David Bowie's "Life on Mars." "Leaves the original standing...," affirmed author Kieron Tyler, but you'll have to take his word for that. While the orchestral arrangement is, indeed, superlative, the absence of any overt resemblance to the original (which was, of course, the whole point of the series), and a vocal that sounds like it's just coming off helium, actually renders it among the most redundant exercises of the year so far -- which, given 1973's propensity for churning out some absolutely excruciating hit records, was quite an achievement. The nasties this time revolve around TV talent show winners Peters & Lee's granny-pleasing ballad "Welcome Home" -- the mere memory of which is about as welcome as a plague of locusts, Dawn's moth-eaten "Gypsy Rose," the increasingly faltering Osmonds' "Going Home," and Slade's "Skweeze Me Pleeze Me," the first gargantuan crack in that band's hitherto inviolate armor and a record that a lot of people were sick of before they'd even heard it. The last thing Slade needed was a bellowed, battered cover version. Repackaged here with becoming fidelity, such performances cloak Volume 32 with an unpalatable pall that it really doesn't deserve. Martha Smith's warble through "Touch Me in the Morning" is as adorable as Diana Ross' own prototype, likewise an aching rendition of Clifford T. Ward's "Gaye." Mungo Jerry's "Alright Alright Alright" resurfaces to remind us what kick-ass 45s that band was capable of unleashing, and Elton's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" shrugs off the occasionally painful memory of past Top of the Pops assaults on his canon to layer some genuinely aggressive guitar against a suitably sassy vocalizing. In other words, Volume 32 is a lot better than it looks like it will be, and an awful lot more fun than it ought to be. Just don't go expecting miracles.

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