Encomium: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/13/2006
I've heard this several times in my life and I still have mixed feelings on it, namely because using Zeppelin for influence is one thing, but using them for a song to cover is another.
This compilation succeeds in most ways, and yet it just doesn't feel right somehow. There really aren't any big-name artists on here that lasted through 2006 save for Sheryl Crow, and the songs are not typical Zeppelin fare -- more on that later. No, the feeling comes from the fact that the artists here really didn't pay tribute to Zeppelin as much as simply cover their songs.
A truly great cover will make a song sound fresh but still recognizable, with examples being Smashmouth doing Steely Dan's "Do It Again" and the Chili Peppers making Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" their own. A bad example is the Goo Goo Dolls remaking Supertramp's "Give A Little Bit," with almost no change from the original.
Sadly, that is mostly what this collection is. Granted, these are complex songs, so copying them is no easy feat. But Duran Duran's cover of "Thank You" and Cracker doing "Good Times Bad Times" come off as modern covers, with updated production and slight changes, but nothing interesting enough to be considered a tribute.
I only harp on this point because Zeppelin's music could be reinvented in many ways, such as Dolly Parton's interesting take on "Stairway To Heaven." To that end, there are a few good gems here -- Stone Temple Pilots turn in an acoustic rewrite of "Dancing Days" that ranks among the band's best performances, while Sheryl Crow redoes "D'yer Mak'er" with a sexier twist.
Hootie And The Blowfish remake "Hey Hey What Can I Do" and turn it into a Hootie song, which means it's less interesting than the original, while Helmet turns in a faithful adaption of "Custard Pie," ruined by David Yow's awful singing. To that end, the music of "Misty Mountain Hop" as done by 4 Non Blondes is great, but the singer tries way too hard to be Robert Plant, and it comes off as gimmicky instead of inspired.
Henry Rollins also lends a sort of death metal howl to "Four Sticks," which is just weird, but it's redeemed by an amazing take on "Going To California" by Never The Bride. The band substitutes piano for guitar and steps up the emotion a bit more than the original -- it's overdone in some places but is the only other place on the album where a band really makes a song their own.
Where I do praise this collection is the song selection. A band that likes Zeppelin would have covered the hits, but a band that understands Zeppelin will cover what's here. Nowhere on this collection will you find "Kashmir," "Whole Lotta Love," "Stairway," "Heartbreaker" or "Fool In The Rain." These are relatively obscure Zep songs done by artists that truly call the band influences, and it's refreshing to hear.
A special note goes out to the closing song, a duet between Tori Amos and Robert Plant of "Down By the Seaside." The song is slowed down considerably and piano/guitar atmospherics are added on, as Plant sings slowly and Amos backs him up in a high voice. The two never get carried away, but they do drag the song out a little bit, and run out of ideas near the end -- listening to Plant mumbling on one speaker and Amos wailing out the other got a little annoying after eight minutes.
In a nutshell, Encomium fails to be a true tribute to one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The song selection is there, but the lack of experimentation and the tendency of some of the singers to try to ape Robert Plant sinks this release. Zeppelin fans might enjoy it, as may fans of the artists here, but overall the disc is nothing more than a curiosity.