The African Music Store in Long Street is one of my favourite CD shops. The other is the Cash Crusaders chain of modern pawnshops that look more like small department stores than the old-fashioned, dingy pawnshops in the Long Street of yesteryear. The African Music Store, as its names suggests, specialises in African music from across the continent. All of my Flea Anikulapo Kuti albums and all but one of my Tinariwen albums were bought there.
There is also a small section of South African rock music CDs where I have also found some interesting stuff. One such album is the (so far I guess) debut and only album of Absinthè, a trio that looks more like the dreaded "project" than a genuine working band. The two main guys are respectively Paul E Flynn from Sugardrive and Cito from Wonderboom.
The high concept seems to have been: "Let's learn a bunch of songs from the Eighties and Nineties, songs that have influenced us or mean something to us, and then play them live and record the performance." as I have never heard of Absinthè before I came across the album I have no idea why or whether the project was successful beyond drawing an audience and releasing a CD.
At first hearing the acoustic interpretations work well. The accompaniment is understated and accomplished and the two front men can sing. Unfortunately Paul E Flynn has such a distinctive voice that his vocal turns make the group sound like unplugged Sugardrive. The tunes were recorded in front of a live audience; the photograph on the CD insert makes it look as if the guy performed in someone's living room but that might have been simply the rehearsal space.
The audience is very appreciative and it must have been a blast, of sorts, to hear these slightly odd interpretations of songs that were not necessarily acoustic to start with, such as the tunes from The Pixies, House of Love, The Mission, Joy Division or PIL.
Chris Isaak's "Blue Hotel" is a weak spot. This treatment really shows up a rather weak tune that was obviously trussed up and elevated by the band performance in the original version. One misses the twanging, crying guitar. This version just drags.
On the other hand, "Long Black Veil" and "Hallelujah" (coincidentally I know the Jeff Buckley of this Leonard Cohen song far better than the Cohen interpretation) work quite well, though no-one has quite rendered "Hallelujah" like Buckley and no-one will ever do it that kind of justice again.
So: what have we here? An accomplished set by accomplished musicians playing some favourite old tunes. It does sound like a lot of fun though it also seems to serve no purpose whatsoever to release this live set, other than as souvenir for those attending the gig.
I like this album. It is just not gut feel attractive and I would imagine it will have to grow on me for any lasting appeal. That is not necessarily a bad thing as sugar rush appreciation often only lasts as long as the first sugar rush does. Slow burners tend to be keepers.
I believe that absinthè is not a drink to be taken lightly as it can be quite addictive and quite dangerously addictive at that. Time will tell whether Absinthè is poison or pleasure.