It’s the merry month of Christmas, traditionally a tough time for La Vida Lawyer (what with all his inaanaks knocking), but for this month I’ll tune out of politics past and present, and indulge in pop culture. Warning: even my wife disagrees, violently at times, with my taste.
As I post this blog, the Ultraelectromagnetic Jam album is playing on ITunes. This is a tribute to the Eraserheads, the phenomenal Philippine rock band who broke up four years ago. The new album has young bands and singers doing cover versions of staple Eraserheads songs. And I am proud to say that I am not disappointed with this project; in fact, I am well pleased. When I inserted the CD on the Mac, ITunes recognized it immediately and fetched the track names. It is curious that the songs have been classified as “World” music, which probably means that the album is going to be marketed abroad.
The album opens with “Alapaap” by 6 Cycle Mind. I have to confess that I have not heard of this band, but they do a pretty good rendition here. They added a new guitar track and some percussion in the opening dreamy sequences before the song flies off with the guitar loops on the first verse. In the bridge, where we used to hear Ely going pa pa ra pa pa, we hear a lead guitar doing the notes instead, before the vocals modulate. Geez, that sure works.
Paolo Santos does “Magasin” in the second track. He uses the guitar lead to introduce the song on the C, E, Am, F F minor chord progression, in place of the “Hoo Hoo” vocal track. Its amusing, even more so when he adds a few more notes when the song reaches the bridge. Ely and Paolo both have high octave male voices, so Paolo breezes thru this one with ease, but really the wonder of this version is the song itself, about seeing one’s ex-girlfriend becoming a pin up girl for a porno magazine. This is way off Paolo’s clean image as a singer-songwriter, but he manages to sing this song well with his image intact.
Imago does “Spoliarum” in the third track. The song originally appeared in the Sticker Happy album, which I think is the album where the Eraserheads managed to hit the perfect balance between artistic integrity and commercial viability. Imago does a good job here too with a lady vocal. Frankly, I’m still wondering what the song means, if it has any meaning to begin with.
Kitchie Nadal was fun to hear in Ligaya (track 7) as she breaks out in laughter while singing the line “ilang ahit pa ba ang aahitin”. Funny, the line still fits even if a woman is singing it. Francis M., does great work in “Superproxy” (track 9). He gives it enough energy probably more explosive than that of Ely’s.
Orange and Lemons, the band responsible for that “Pinoy Ako” hit song, sings “Huwag Kang Matakot” in Track 10. This song originally appeared in Natin 99 Album, just before the turn of the millennium, with the Eraserheads music going a little bit on the weird side with their experimentations on electronica. “Huwag Kang Matakot” was the most accessible in that Natin 99 album, and I believe it was there to make the album commercially viable. As a pop song, “Huwag Kang Matakot” had great possibilities and a real infectious hook. Orange and Lemons gives the song a little updating here. They cleaned up the sound by using acoustic string guitar for the riffs. In the bridge part, they inserted, some loops from Julie Tearjerky, another EHeads hit, and they clipped out some words from the chorus while inserting lyrics from “Tikman”, all in a playful manner. Great effort by Orange and Lemons, even better than the original.
The highlight of this album is track 15, where Rico J. Puno, the total entertainer, does his own version of “Ang Huling El Bimbo.” Rico J. Puno is an institution in the Philippine music industry with his signature raspy and soulful voice. And I’m pretty sure, the Eraserheads in their youth knew “Kapalaran”, Rico J.’s signature song, by heart. To have him sing what probably is the most popular Eraserheads song ever -- it even got an MTV Asia Music Video Award -- is the best proof that the Eraserheads and their music form a watershed of artistry in the Philippine pop music scene. When I learned that Rico Puno was signing “El Bimbo”, I imagined him breaking into his signature “baby baby" belting in the third verse of the song that goes “ sa panaginip na lang pala kita maisasayaw”. But instead, he restrains himself a bit and opts for a cool classic delivery. No problem with that. I guess Rico J. Puno has matured.
The album ends with “Para sa Masa” sang by most, if not all, of the artists appearing in the album a la “We are the World” The song is Ely’s lamentation and despair for the band’s effort and failure (?) to lift the masses and their musical taste. Rico J. Puno does the line “Pinilit kong ihaon ka. Ngunit ayaw mo namang sumama.” Great song, a fitting end to a great tribute to the most successful Pinoy Rock Band in history.
To conclude, new and upcoming singers should mine the Eraserheads back catalogue of songs that deserve fresh interpretation: Bogchi Hokbu, Kailan, Playground, Combo on the Run, Tindahan ni Aling Nena, even the Eraserheads’ Christmas Album Fruitcake, and many more. There is one Eraserheads song, Casa Fantastica, which appeared in the 1998 concept album about the Philippine Centennial which should also be unearthed. Those songs are real gems, a true affirmation of what NVM Gonzalez used to say that there is genius in the Filipino race.
Check out the review of the Tribute/Launching Concert of the album held in UP from Katie's site.