By J Howell
Following Peggy Sue‘s brilliant first two records, listeners may be a bit surprised by the band’s choice to (mostly) recreate the soundtrack from Kenneth Anger’s 1963 film Scorpio Rising as a next move. Somewhat predictably, though, the record is flat-out brilliant.
Modern music fans with a Phil Spector bent should take especial heed: Peggy Sue recreates, perhaps most importantly, the spirit of the original tracks while finding a sonic space for them to exist in that feels a bit more like alternate-universe versions of familiar songs than slavish imitation or heavy-handed “updating”. The band deftly walks the fine line between reproducing the original songs and making them their own, somehow managing to treat the “teenage drama” factor of many of the tracks with a respectful empathy that feels less melodramatic than urgent. Elsewhere, Scorpio Rising is just plain fun.
Hearing songs that, for the most part everybody knows, treated as such is kind of amazing. If nothing else, filtered through Peggy Sue, many of the tracks here reveal an emotional depth that those who might be quick to dismiss them as oldies radio fodder might miss. Take “Hit The Road, Jack” as a case in point—who doesn’t know and love Ray Charles’s version? Here, it’s presented so starkly, with brilliantly layered vocals and insistent background drums, as to be downright harrowing. The opening track, “Fools Rush In,” is something of a standard now, I suppose, but the lovely rendering of it here is both sublimely atmospheric and visceral at the same time.
Pretty much every track on Peggy Sue Play The Songs Of Scorpio Rising is similarly brilliant. Some are a bit more lighthearted—”My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Heatwave,” “Party Lights”—while others are surprisingly intense, like “Torture” and “Point Of No Return.” Perhaps some of the best tracks are the ones somewhere between the two, like “Wind Up Doll” and “Blue Velvet.” The closest thing to a weak track here is “Wipeout,” which closes the record, but even then, Olly Joyce’s drumming is superb; if the song’s lacking, it’s only because there’s no vocal, and as much as anything, Peggy Sue’s Katy Young and Rosa Slade are particularly engaging singers.
After Peggy Sue’s strong showing with their last record, Acrobats (reviewed here), I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the band’s newer, more electric sound was influenced by John Parish’s production. If Scorpio Rising is any indication, most of it seems to have been from the source. This album, recorded and mixed by Jimmy Robertson, retains much of the sparkle-and-grit contrast that made Acrobats so sonically rich while appropriately upping the reverb ante considerably.
Many of the original songs covered here were touched by the hand of Phil Spector originally, or at the very least weren’t immune to the use of echo chambers so common in the early Sixties. Scorpio Rising envelops the listener in an evocative, reverberant atmosphere that doesn’t exactly clone the Wall Of Sound, but more than does it justice; recording engineers keen on capturing the spirit of “old school” sounds without directly imitating them could learn an awful lot from this record.
If you’re one of the subset of record collectors/musicians/audio geeks into Spector, Joe Meek, or early recording techniques, you will dig this record. If you’re a listener enamored of great, classic songwriting presented as compellingly as possible, you will dig this record. Following Peggy Sue’s last two records, I couldn’t imagine what they could do next that would make me more enamored of them—Scorpio Rising has more than done so, in a most unexpected fashion.
Peggy Sue Play The Songs of Scorpio Rising is a record more than worth enjoying now, and more than ever, listeners should keep an eye on what they do next—it’s probably going to be amazing.
Peggy Sue Play The Songs Of Scorpio Rising was released on September 18 from Yep Roc and is available to order in a limited edition run from the label’s website.