Review: Zombi ‘Zombi & Friends, Volume 1’

It was the summer of 2007 that I saw Zombi open for Isis at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles. Given their name and the fact that they were signed to Relapse Records, I made the logical assumption that they would be some variation of metal or hardcore. You can imagine my surprise when the Pittsburgh-based duo took to the stage. Instead of frenzied screams and granite Drop D riffs, their music was a love letter to film soundtracks of Goblin and the often-maligned mid ‘80s synth period of Rush.

Zombi 'Zombi & Friends, Volume 1'

Fast forward years later, and thanks to the popularity of TV shows like Stranger Things and neo-genres like synthwave, ‘80s music is beloved again. And in this fertile ground, Zombi have come again with a collection of classic rock ballads with some help from members of Pinkish Black, The Sword, Trans Am, and Zao(?!). According to band member Steve Moore, it started as a joke of sorts, but Zombi and their collaborators just couldn’t help but continue the fun.

The album kicks off with a cover of the Barry Gibb and Barbara Streisand duet Guilty. It is a bit weird to listen to, with the distinct absence of Gibb’s one of a kind bearded tenor vocals, but it works nicely and is done with attention to detail. The keys, drums and overall production sounds straight out of 1980. The process of close recreation is repeated with covers of Eddie Rabbitt’s Suspicions and The Eagles’ I Can’t Tell You Why. It’s at this point where you can make the distinction between the two types of cover albums. Either the performing act gives their own twist on the cover songs, or they go for straight authenticity. Overall, Zombi have opted for the latter approach.

Zombi & Friends are sure to deliver your mustache-and-aviator glasses a grooving fix…

Things kick into higher gear with a riveting cover of The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius/Eye In the Sky, which could easily be mistaken for the original. And perhaps most surprising is Frank Stallone’s Take You Back. Over here in the states, Sylvester Stallone’s brother’s music career is often viewed in jest, but I had never heard this impressive spirited acapella soul number. It’s really good! You learn something new every day! A flawless take on The Doobie Brothers Taking It To The Streets follows, and while there is only one Michael McDonald, you could be given a pass if you thought this was a remaster.

If I’m to be frank (and I don’t mean Stallone), Volume 1 is somewhat of a difficult cover album to review precisely because it is so faithful to the artists and their work. There is nothing wrong here per se. Zombi’s instrumental prowess shows no signs of fatigue, and the guest musicians do their parts well. But I think it would have benefited enormously if Zombi harnessed their ‘70s and ‘80s influences while putting a creative spin on each track, rather than simple recreation. Because it inevitably begs the question, why not just listen to the originals? Perhaps the weakest point is the final track, a cover of Neil Diamond’s America. I don’t mind a lot of Mr. Diamond’s work, but I’ve always found this song cheesy, and not in a necessarily endearing or campy way.

So, if you want to sip fine cocktails on your yacht off of the coast of the Florida panhandle, or you want to lounge in the privacy of your own home because you feasibly could never afford such a vessel, Zombi & Friends are sure to deliver your mustache-and-aviator glasses a grooving fix.

Label: Relapse Records
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