It’s hard to knock 'Do Me a Kindness' as it’s obviously the product of a lot of love and care. When it’s good, it’s pretty much peerless, but when it sags…well, you know
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Steve Adey’s third album ‘Do Me a Kindness’ consists of nine cover versions and an adaptation of a Herman Hesse poem. That’s probably not the kind of thing that whets the appetite and quickens the pulse, is it? Albums of cover versions are a handy diversion if the artist is suffering from writer’s block or has just left rehab and are generally a mixed bunch – who could forget (as much as anyone who had ever heard it would like to…) Duran Duran’s ‘Thank You’? It’s probably wise to approach this kind of thing with caution.
To Adey’s credit, he hasn’t taken the easy option on this album. None of the tunes on Do Me a Kindness’ are karaoke favourites – instead we get songs originally recorded by PJ Harvey, Low, Portishead and Smog among others. And they are recorded beautifully. Adey’s previous career as a recording engineer has come in handy here and the instruments and (especially) the voices sound incredible – a superb combination of clarity and natural sounding reverb. Dig out your good headphones for this one, kids. But once we get past the production values, what are we left with? In a word – bleakness.
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‘Do Me a Kindness’ is pretty hard going. It makes Nick Drakes’ ‘Pink Moon’ album sound like ‘The Best of The Beach Boys’. After 46 minutes of slow moving slabs of angst (albeit beautifully recorded slabs of angst…) you may struggle to get off the sofa. Morrissey’s ‘Every Day is Like Sunday’, which wasn’t exactly a jaunty romp when it first appeared on ‘Viva Hate’, is slowed down to a sub-funerial pace with the relentless tick-tocking of a drum machine keeping the minimal beat. Adey plays it straight, which means the dark humour of the original is lacking here, turning his version into a sort of doomy pastiche. Mary Margaret O’Hara’s ‘To Cry About’ is much more successful and the bleakness of the lyric is matched beautifully by Adey’s arrangement. Nick Cave’s ‘God is in the House’ lacks the sarcastic bite of the original and the minimal approach means that your attention may wander about halfway through the piece. It’s only ‘How Heavy the Days’ with its lyrics via Herman Hesse, that really succeeds in marrying the elegiac music with the sombre tone of the words to good effect. Pounding percussion, strange chirping keyboards and twisty, reversed sounds are blended to superb effect. Building from the diligently strummed chords accompanying Adey’s urgent baritone voice into a complex soundscape, this is what the album should have sounded like. It’s a very impressive piece.
It’s hard to knock ‘Do Me a Kindness’ as it’s obviously the product of a lot of love and care. When it’s good, it’s pretty much peerless, but when it sags…well, you know. Adey has taken the songs and hasn’t shied away from adapting them to his needs – these aren’t pale facsimiles of the originals, these are practically new songs, but with so few dynamics or changes of tone across the album, most of the pieces blur into one another. And that’s a shame as there is some gorgeous stuff here. No one would suggest that his next album should be a collection of Bavarian Polka tunes to lighten the mood, but letting in a little light into his music would give Adey a broader palette to use. Any visual artist will tell you that juxtaposing light and shade makes the darks darker and the lights brighter. Adey definitely has a great album in him, but ‘Do Me a Kindness’ isn’t it. The next one might be.