Song: The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys
This spacious, introspective excursion into jazzy abstraction is the title track of the English band’s 1971 album. Sumptuous sax, a majestically paced, rolling bass line and deft percussion help stain in the tone - but Steve Winwood’s keyboard skills are the crucial element; by turns brooding and effusive, they plumb the depths, delving into lovely sonic territory with robust inventiveness. The song’s conventional verse and chorus structure gives over to a rich instrumental section with vivid piano and gnarly organ flourishes; the net effect masterfully defines the essence of this sublimely trippy, technically masterful track.
Song: Das Modell
Continuing the Rammstein theme, here the German metal giants cover Kraftwerk’s brilliant track The Model, which opened up Side B of their seminal 1978 album The Man-Machine. 19 years after the original was released, their fellow countrymen give the song a far ruder treatment - it’s jaggedly muscular and propulsive, exchanging the sleek, somewhat detached sound of the original for an earthier, more raunchily insistent tone. Lead vocalist Till Lindemann injects his trademark histrionic spunk and spittle; the slashing, lockstep guitars and profoundly unsubtle arrangement do the rest. It’s loud and somewhat obnoxious but it’s also great fun.
Catch the YouTube fan video below, cutting together footage from Domino (a 2005 flick directed by Tony Scott, starring Kiera Knightly) - it kinda works, in a trashy, crassly exploitive way. Or try the Balanescu quartet’s pristine cover, below that. And there’s always the charmingly mechanistic refinement of the original song . A casual wander through YouTube will offer up a surprising number of inventive interpretations of this single gem of a tune.
Band: Apocalyptica Featuring Nina Hagen
Apocalyptica is a Finnish metal ensemble using cellos instead of the usual pointy electric guitars - and they know how to shred. They deliver a startling version of Seeman, a beloved song by German metal legends Rammstein from their 1995 debut album Herzeleid. The video for this 2003 collaboration is vividly cinematic, gorgeous in all its silken black and white glory. The tone is dire, fatalistic and over-the-top epic - the band is well named and Hagen has never been quite so menacing in her throaty allure. Mixing spooky remorse with hammering incandescence, this version of Seeman is every bit as powerful as Rammstein’s anthemic rendition from their 1999 Live aus Berlin album.
Song: MAW Expensive
Band: Masters At Work
If this nearly twelve minute monster groove opus doesn’t get your blood moving, nothing will. "Little" Louie Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez, the NYC-based mixmaster/producer duo behind Masters At Work, dropped this 1999 single as a spirited tribute to Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, who died in '97. MAW heavily samples Kuti’s 1975 muscular, fiercely populist wake-up anthem Expensive Shit (and not without some triumphant humour and righteous intervention).
The propulsive power of the resultant vehicle just goes for miles. It’s got terrific horns snapping you to attention, sweetly fluid flutes weaving a sinuous dance, percussive notes galore - and, in time, it has Wunmi spitting out a rapid-fire vocal patter that astounds for its energetic, committed delivery. Wunmi began her career as a London-born dancer for Soul II Soul and moved on into documentary (on Fela, no less) and fashion design; she’s also a devoted singer/songwriter melding Afrobeat with house, soul, broken beat, jazz and other genres; she’s a musical alchemist of the first order. Fela through MAW lays down the groove and Wunmi injects impassioned inspiration. This is about protest, liberation and self-empowerment; its effervescent positivity is impossible to ignore.