By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Fire & Skill: The Songs of the Jam
This probably seemed like a good idea back in the old days, when the world gave a steaming crap about Oasis: Bros Noel and Liam Gallagher would assemble and bookend a tribute to their rave fave that isn't spelled B-E-A-T-L-E-S, then release it a month before their own long-awaited third LP arrived in the bins. Might have seemed a tad obvious, sure, but what about the record biz ain't? Feels like forever since the idea of a Jam tribute began making the rounds, and even then, it always had the smack of big effin' joke surrounding it, especially when Garbage was bandied about as one of the disc's big-time contributors. Thought for a moment that was just a description of this album. Turns out, it is.
Hell of a way to pay homage to one of the late-greats of the 1970s and early '80s, gathering the likes of Ben Harper, Gene, Everything But the Girl, and Buffalo Tom -- and them's the big names, save for the Beastie Boys-Cibo Matto team-up, whose inclusion should scare off any loyalist -- and letting them take a whack at Jam standards. (What? Lenny Kravitz, Gomez, and the Indigo Girls weren't available?) Might as well hurl some dung at the Virgin Mary and let the government crack down on the whole sordid affair -- that, or cue up last year's Clash trib and beg for forgiveness. If the Jam were remembered by all but the most fetishistic post-punks, Fire & Skill might be considered a work of heresy; as it stands, this is just one of those records on which some bargain-bin no-names (Gene, Reef, Heavy Stereo, Silversun) and their platinum brethren dump open the coffin and sodomize the corpse till there's nothing left but fetid dust.
The opener (Liam Gallagher and Steve Craddock's "Carnation") and closer (Noel Gallagher's "To Be Someone," among the most on-the-nose performances put to tape since Sinatra did it his way) hint at what could have been -- laughable, but listenable. But there's nothing quite so painful as hearing Harper, who's making quite a career out of performing Dead and Hendrix tributes, turn "This Is the Modern World" into a electric fart. Or the Beasties murder "Start!" by suffocating it between lounge-lizard quotation marks. Or Everything But the Girl doll up "English Rose" like some long-lost Mel Torme ballad. Or Gene remake "Town Called Malice" in the Smiths' image. Or Garbage remake "The Butterfly Collector" in their own. Figures that Paul Weller would give his blessing to this mess by contributing an unreleased Jam (or is that Style Council?) track, hidden at album's end. It's long been his wish that people would stop talking about the Jam, and nothing will accomplish that faster than this digital whore.
— Robert Wilonsky