Lost Fingers- more than a novelty
Especially with YouTube in play, none of us are immune from novelties anymore. We like to share and post videos of animals playing instruments or a weird version of a pop hit or a (maybe unintentionally) bad version of a hit song. Every once in a while, a curio will come along that transcends this and is actually better than the initial joke it seems based on.
On their second album, Quebec trio The Lost Fingers makes its concept obvious- it's called Lost in the 80s (now available in the States on Tandem.Mu) so you can pretty much figure out which time period they're covering (hint: it's not the 1880's). Maybe the closest comparison is French duo Nouvelle Vague, who do bossa versions of punk/new wave/post-punk tunes (Clash, PiL, Buzzcocks, Dead Kennedys, Blondie). Of course, there's also Seu Jorge's French versions of David Bowie songs and the Bad Plus' take on "prog" (also including Bowie but also including Rush and Tears For Fears (?) and Burt Bacharach (??)) as well as Blondie and Nirvana. Lost Finger's m.o. is gypsy jazz (ala Django Reinhardt) and pop, which sounds kinda weird and coy but definitely isn't once you get to hear it.
On this album, Fingers roam all over the Gimme Decade's map from power ballads to dance music to mid-tempo ballads to metal anthem to house, in a generous sampling of what those years had to offer, for better and worse. The thing is, depending on your tastes, many of the originals they chose from are kinda crappy. This makes it even more of a revelation that they can transform it into lively old-timey music- to steal a line from "Hey Jude," they can take a sad (and bad) song and make it better.
Unlike Nouvelle Vague, Fingers have no use for underground music here but what they find in 80's pop and dance is interesting. Fingers understands that to make the music work in their style, they have to focus not just on the words as a connecting piece but also the hooks. For some of their best songs here, they savor the hook much more respectfully than the original artists themselves.
So while they mistakenly try to match the tough rap over Techtronic's "Pump Up the Jam" to little avail and similarly, mimic the bluster of Bon Jovi's hair-metal classic "You Give Love A Bad Name" (which gets saved by the bluegrass-speed breaks), they soon pick up momentum after taking AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" at a much too languid pace (which Hayseed Dixie does much better at).
UK pin-up girl Samantha Fox's lusty "Touch Me" becomes a lively, finger-snapper which savors the words and chorus much more than the non-singer did. Stevie Wonder's yawny ballad "Part-Time Lover" picks up in pace and becomes much more likable as Fingers dig the scatting parts much better and finds a joyous tone that Stevie himself seemed to have temporarily lost at that point. Kool and The Gang's "Fresh" also improves at a faster pace and a sexier savoring of the lyrics there. Jacko's "Billie Jean" isn't necessarily improved (that'd be tough) but it's funny to hear singer Christian Roberge imitate MJ's breathless gulps over a doo-wop chorus. George Michael's "Careless Whisper" also improves with the upbeat pace and the band bearing down on the hook much more than Michael/Wham! originally did- they use the same method to rescue "Straight Up" from Paula Abdul too. Their take on Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" is hilarious if only because they transform the goth/electronic classic into a lively cabaret atmosphere, making the song sound world weary in another way.
Producers might want to note how and why Fingers score successes here, though they'd also point out that the originals happen to be hits (albeit from a few one-hit wonders). Also, a request for the trio- for a follow-up, could you dust off and liven up "I Just Died In Your Arms," "The Safety Dance" and "Take On Me"? They'd be naturals for you.