Everybody hates tribute albums. I hate them so much that I have 61 of them in my collection. Make that 62, counting this new one that salutes Stiff, the London-based label that did its damnedest to save rock 'n' roll from '76-'87 with its rag-tag roster and sly slogans. (In cheeky, Stiff-honoring fashion, this album is subtitled "If It Ain't Stiff It Ain't Worth a Tribute.")
Reason alone to recommend The Stiff Generation is the presence of five Nick Lowe covers--actually covers of four Lowe-penned tracks and a version of the Goffin/King song "Halfway to Paradise," which Lowe claimed early in his solo career. (Matthew Sweet grabs it here.) Philly's Bigger Lovers' do "So It Goes," the Scott McCaughey-led Lowe Beats do "Endless Sleep," Pat Buchanan does "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass," and a whole bunch of people get together to close out the album with "I Love My Label."
Two songs from the catalog of under-appreciated singer-songwriter Wreckless Eric also score big: Bill Lloyd, the best friend tribute discs have ever had, makes good use of Eric's "Whole Wide World," and Windbreaker Bobby Sutliff and his brother Robin resurrect the nifty "Broken Doll." There's a Graham Parker cut, with Nixon's Head taking on "Stupefaction," and one from the late, much-missed Kirsty MacColl: Dawn Eden, backed by accomplished popsters The Anderson Council, covers "They Don't Know About Us." (Earlier, The Anderson Council tackles Elvis Costello's "Welcome to the Working Week.") There's even "Peppermint Lump," a song recorded by Pete Townsend's daughter Angie when Stiff was trying to crash the teen market, offered up by ace Chicago pop outfit Frisbee.
New Jersey-based label Groove Disques also unearthed a couple of authentic Stiff artifacts: the demo for Any Trouble's eternally terrific "Trouble with Love" and a '79 live version of Ian Gomm doing his "Hooked on Love." Speaking of which, another highlight is Chris von Sneidern's perfect reading of Gomm's hit, "Hold On." But at the center of it all is the Mary Janes' warm and whispery version of "Alison," proof of what's been suspected all along--"Alison" was Costello's first soul song. It's a perfect moment, and one that helps explain why I now have 62 tribute discs on my shelf.