REVIEW: Smoking Popes: The Party's Over and Tribute
Smoking Popes: The Party's Over [Double Zero, 2003] (mp3s)
Various Artists: Tribute: Smoking Popes [Double Zero, 2003]
Three words? Posthumous pope overkill.
The Smoking Popes enjoyed a nice cult following during their seven-or-so active years in the 90's. The Party's Over is their latest release - though they disbanded in ‘97 or ‘98, depending on who you ask and how much you care. Tied up with former label Capitol until now, the all-covers album sees its release on Double Zero, home of Duvall (the reformed Popes).
Given the Smoking Popes' history of mostly-punky output, the platter of pop and country classics they chose to cover is a little surprising. While none of their covers can match wits with the originals, some of the Popes' more ambitious song selections make for some interesting pop monsters. "Seven Lonely Days" proves that a Patsy Cline song filtered through Weezer power-chords sounds uncannily like They Might Be Giants in a rare moment of giving-a-shit. I am not familiar with Judy Garland's original "Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart," but the Popes surely are kicking it up a notch with their version (unless Garland first recorded "Zing!" while fronting Bananarama). And though the bar set by Billie Holiday's version of "Stormy Weather" will never be surpassed, some acoustic strumming, fuzz-bass and Morrissey-jacked vocals has the Popes making it a gem of their own.
There is nothing essential on The Party's Over. An interesting document for Popes fans perhaps, but unless you have always felt cheated by Me First & The Gimme Gimmes' lack of sincerity, this will likely not do much for you.
Even less successful is Tribute, the coinciding Smoking Popes (wait for it) tribute album, also on Double Zero. The arsenal of Smoking Popes hits (Angus soundtrack, anyone?) are delivered by a series of pop-punk outfits. The Ataris do a heartfelt piano rendition of "Pretty Pathetic," the vastly under-rated Grade give "Days Just Wave Goodbye" some shredded-vocals charm, and Bad Astronaut perform "Megan" proudly, but the rest all seems uninspired.
In a dangerously over-saturated music market, both of these CDs are really quite useless. Whether or not you feel the Popes are worthy of a tribute album or that The Party's Over does justice to its covered material, the fact is that these represent the Popes' 4th and 5th releases since the demise of the band. The Smoking Popes' cash-cow has been milked dry. The party really is over.