- Recording cover songs is often a dicey proposition. You could try to recreate the source material—but what's the point, other than simply paying homage? Or perhaps it's better to reinterpret the original, imbue it with your personality and make the track your own. Then again, why not write a new song entirely? It might seem like a fool's errand, but Terje Olsen has taken the challenge with his latest record. The Big Cover-Up sees the Norwegian disco master tackling a quartet of tunes from the past, all of which are kitschy to varying degrees.
As Todd Terje, Olsen has proven he knows his way around a remake. His 2014 version of "Johnny And Mary" on It's Album Time was a full reimagining of Robert Palmer's somber synth-pop gem, but on The Big Cover-Up, Olsen and his bandmates—his brother Olaf, Jaga Jazzist's Lars Horntveth, and Martin Windstad—go the homage route, hewing closer to the source material. If you like quirk and campy melodies, this will be a plus.
Lead track "Firecracker" was originally a faux–Far East trifle from exotica king Martin Denny's 1959 classic, Quiet Village, and was then covered by Yellow Magic Orchestra on their 1978 self-titled debut LP. YMO kept the ersatz Asian feel of Denny's version, but transformed it into a perky synth-pop number. That's the rendition that Olsen covers here. Anchored by an acidic bass and zippy drums, he keeps the over-the-top Orientalisms and whiplash melody intact as he injects the tune with a triple-espresso dose of pep.
"La Fete Sauvage" similarly began as an exotica-style tune, featured on Vangelis's score of the 1975 wildlife documentary of the same name. His version blends tribal rhythms with synth-led melodicism, and Olsen follows that template while boosting the kick and revving up the rhythm. Olsen's adaptation of the Boney M's first hit, "Baby Do You Wanna Bump," plays true to its origins as a novelty tune. A low-slung disco rhythm underpins Tijuana Brass-style horns and a monotone vocal imploring us to "b-u-m-p." It's fun in an inane way, but the best of the bunch is Olsen's rendering of the Martin Circus standby "Disco Circus." Stripping away the disco filigree, he emphsizes the "dum-dum-dum" chant and the "wha-wha-wha" refrain, adding a thicker bottom and, late in the track, a subtle synth arpeggio.
The package boasts a number of remixes, including Prins Thomas's version of "Le Fete Sauvage," a Daniel Maloso mix of "Baby Do You Wanna Bump" and Øyvind Morken's take on "Disco Circus." Thomas and Maloso both smooth out the histrionics to a degree (Thomas appends a nicely sweeping coda to "Le Fete Sauvage"), while Morken emphasizes the tribal roots of "Disco Circus." But they otherwise don't transform Olsen's reinterpretations as much as they could have. Dan Tyler of the Idjut Boys serves up the record's winners. He works his dub-heavy magic on both "Disco Circus" and "Firecracker," transforming the former into a sea of percolating rhythms and tilting the latter towards pandemonium. It's not an essential work, but, like the rest of The Big Cover-Up, it's got a goofy, charismatic charm.
02. Disco Circus
03. Baby Do You Wanna Bump
04. La Fete Sauvage
05. Baby Do You Wanna Bump (Daniel Maloso Remix)
06. Firecracker (Dan Tyler Remix)
07. La Fete Sauvage (Prins Thomas Remix)
08. Disco Circus (Øyvind Morken Remix)