The War Child Heroes album is no ordinary compilation album. Rather than a series of casts off and B sides that form the usual charity CD, War Child take a highly prescriptive approach in the formation of their releases. This approach leads to a much greater focus on the quality of the music. The concept for Heroes combines some of the greatest icons of rock music with some of the most popular contemporary artists of today. The charity asked fifteen rock greats, from U2 to Bowie to Iggy Pop to choose a song from their back catalogue and to nominate a modern act that they would most trust to create a unique interpretation of that song. The end results of these new cover versions are such that irrespective of the charitable status of the project, the album is worth buying for a significant amount of musical merit alone.
Most surprising is how some of the covers that you would expect on paper to be disasters are very good indeed. Take Duffy covering Live And Let Die; whilst at Breaking More Waves we were fans of the Duffy album, the recent screeching on previous single Rain On Your Parade left a sour taste in our mouth. Here Duffy redeems herself with Bernard Butler on production duties and his long time collaborator David McAlmont providing sweet soulful backing vocals. Her version is restrained and sultry, a torch song version of the classic.
Lily Allen also shocks with a very modern middle of the road pop version of Straight To Hell by The Clash, with Mick Jones on backing vocals. It should be a disaster, but Lily gives Joe Strummers difficult anti war lyrics a delicate sugary touch that actually makes them stand out more.
Elbow fare even better, taking Running To Stand Still by U2 and making it sound even more tender and intimate than the original. It’s worth buying the album for this song alone. Bono chose wisely. Elsewhere TV On The Radio deliver a bold mountainous electronic beat laden version of Heroes that follows neatly on from the Dear Science album whilst The Hold Steady, who let’s face it sound like a Bruce Springsteen covers band, get to cover The Boss on Atlantic City.
There are very few duffers on the album. Hot Chips minimal electro calypso of Transmission will probably be hated by most Ian Curtis fans, but one track out of fifteen isn’t bad.
It would seem almost a disservice to review a charity album and give it the thumbs down. Fortunately in the case of War Child Heroes there is no need to do such a thing. Rather than going out this Friday night and spending your spare cash on a round of drinks, buy this album, stay in, listen to it and know that you have helped provide vital funds for War Childs essential and unique work in helping children who live with the brutal effects of war.