The tribute album is, as I suppose it hardly merits mentioning, a dodgy proposition. It requires an artist who can not only understand the other artist’s work, but who is cognizant enough of its structure that they can offer up what amounts to a criticism or at least a novel interpretation of it. This is why the high points of the genre are mostly jazz albums. The jazz artist sees the structure of a song as something flexible and communal; it’s a framework in which to express their own ideas. Miles Davis recorded a number of what could roughly be considered as tribute albums in his time, Porgy and Bess foremost among them. This is also a strong argument for the affinities between classical and jazz recordings; the work is seen as a thing to be interpreted and transformed in performance.
While pop tribute albums can work on occasion, such as the wonderful Nilsson Sings Newman album, they often fall flat due to poorly considered intention in their conception; the artist likes the other artist’s work, and would like to make a recording of them singing their material. This works at a party (preferably one near a campfire) or a karaoke joint (preferably near an ample supply of hard liquor), but as an album it comes off as a protracted act of vanity or piggybacking.
Treatment Bound unfortunately falls into the latter category: songs about imprecision and anxiety. Pretty much every Replacements song is an expression of one or the other, given uniformly polished and precise recordings. Why lines like “tonight I’ll be doing pull-ups on the toilet bowl,” should be delivered as if between umbrellaed sips in Margaritaville is beyond me. Similarly, the relaxed playing seems more suited for anesthetizing Starbucks customers than for the discovery of some hidden subtext in “I Will Dare”. “Treatment Bound” becomes “Treatment Found” and while I’m sure the impervious Prozac-induced stability of the musicians is a delight to their friends and relatives, it makes for a dull record.
Similarly, many of the best melodic hooks in the Replacements’ catalogue comes from Westerberg’s welps stretching the notes at the end of a line near to their breaking point, but the conservative vocal styling on this record eliminates these. The effect is similar to when a record has been compressed into a series of pancake guitar lines and gaunt pilfered vocals.
Treatment Bound offers insight into some horrific alternate universe where Paul Westerberg’s entire body of work had been recorded for the Singles Soundtrack. Thank god we don’t live in such a universe, and all you folks have professionals with little enough regard for the fact they’re going to die someday to visit and report back with a simple “Skip it.” I’d speak of highlights, but that would imply there are high, lows, moods, or distinctions here. And that’s the problem.
If you’re the sort of person who covertly downloads Kidz Bop CDs to hear songs like “Float On” or “Time Warp” stripped of all intention or purpose, then you may have a new treat. Otherwise, stay clear.
RIYL: SSRIs, The Sirius XM “Coffeehouse” Station
And some of the original group: