Better Left Untouched
The Easy Star All-Stars have never disguised their intentions. As 2003’s Dub Side of the Moon and 2006’s Radiodread showcased, they are a reggae cover band. They re-record entire albums—having previously addressed Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side of the Moon and seminal Radiohead LP OK Computer—with a bunch of Jamaican rhythms and celebrity guest spots to create something in between a tribute album and a new take on an old favorite.
The effort was always a charming one; both Dub Side and Radiodread were creative, introspective, and detail-oriented dissections of the fabulous records inspiring them, standing as beautiful works in their own right. The same feelings are not invoked by the All-Stars’ latest foray, where they take on one of the most interesting and beloved releases of all time: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
On Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band the All-Stars’ trademark attention to detail is still present, noticeable through intricate instrumentation and production layers seemingly hand-placed by producer Michael Goldwasser. The celebrity guests are also in full force, including Matisyahu, Max Romeo, and Frankie Paul. Yet the fervor and creativity so explosive on their prior two efforts seem absent this time around. From start to finish, the record feels uninspired.
Standout tracks from the original such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Getting Better,” and “Fixing a Hole” are bland and forgettable in their new form. Liberties could have been taken with The Beatles’ unique instrumentation on “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” or “Within You Without You,” yet the All-Stars sound as if they are trying to play the songs exactly as first recorded.
Where effort is made to differentiate from Sgt. Pepper’s on cult favorites “Lovely Rita” or “A Day in the Life,” the songs come off as contrived caricatures. The extended dub version of “When I’m Sixty-Four” seems like the only track guided by intuition and not a nose buried deep in the Beatles’ songbook.
It’s a shame for a project with so much potential to fall so harshly flat, but it demonstrates clearly the tough line the All-Stars decide to walk. To remake classic albums in a new format leaves a narrow window for success. While their first two LPs left them looking like geniuses, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band sounds more like the work of a bad reggae cover band in a dive bar than an innovative endeavor.