Kepi Ghoulie - Full Moon Forever (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Kepi Ghoulie

Full Moon Forever (2023)

Pirate's Press

It’s an easy twist to miss, but on Kepi’s cover of Bowie’s “Heroes,” he switches the order of the first and second verse with no real explanation. Is it a gaffe? Is it an artistic statement? Is it because the album was recorded in a rough and ragged fashion and spirit was placed above perfection? It’s tiny things like that which elevates Kepi’s new covers record, Full Moon Forever (a sly Tom Petty homage...?) from being a karaoke run through to a fully realized statement.

Now, Kepi has already recorded dozens of covers across a slew of never ending 7-inches and limited CD-Rs. So, we already have a pretty good idea of what kind of music inspires high-energy pop-punker: Brian Jones era Stones, T-Rex, goth, psyche, you name it. So, really, off the bat, Kepi has a little bit of a challenge in making a full covers LP something noteworthy.

But, he does keep things interesting. For one thing, he mixes expected choices in with some stuff that you wouldn’t have guessed that he dug, which in retrospect, makes a lot of sense. I mean, even though a good 75% of Kepi’s music is spooky based, it never occurred to me that he’s a Bauhaus fan. Yet instead of going for the obvious and covering “Double Dare” or something like that, he stretches further and covers Peter Murphy’s sole solo “hit”- “Cuts You Up.” He radically reworks the track from a smooth adult contemporary crooner (a la late era Roxy Music) into a charged pop-punk puncher.

“Why not cover the good stuff?” you may ask. Well, here’s why. If you cover “She’s in parties,” it’s going to be crappier than the O.G. But, Kepi finds the potential in the somewhat stale “Cuts you Up” and reworks it into something original and snappy. That is, he juices up a jalopy. He doesn’t try to re-invent the lambo. It’s tricks like this which makes the album really interesting. See also his version of Iggy’s “Take care of Me.” You can’t beat Iggy at “I wanna be your dog” or “Lust for life.” But, on the ninth track on 1980’s okay album Soldier… maybe you can be the Iguana at his own game… or at least come close.… Or how about a re-take on a Lords of the New Church track, the original of which, had terrible, terrible, terrible ‘80s production? Even better odds.

Despite the deep cuts, Kepi slides in some classics too. Marc Bolan’s super-smasher “Cosmic Dancer” gets a genuine and reverent take, as does one of JAMC’s biggest slices. As Kepi slides between the classics and the cabalistic, he keeps us guessing- “what part of the original broke off in Jeff Alexander’s brain and transformed him into Pee Wee Herman-meets-Danzig abstract called Kepi Ghoulie?”

It’s also fun to see how much he warps some of these tunes from whatever they were originally into pop-punk rippers of jingle jangle country honks. “Heroes” is such a massive statement with an iconic sound, yet Kepi is effortless able to make it a Kepi track. You have to give Kepi some credit for being able to adapt anything to the Ramones base (probably more difficult than it sounds). And you also have to give credit to drummer Ara Babajian, on loan from the Slackers, who smashes it out when it needs to be smashed out and who gets lovey dovey and gentle when things are a bit more tender. Charlie watts, one of the greatest rock drummers ever, knew that when the drummer supports the song instead of trying to own it, he actually makes the song pop. Ara knows this too and puts that effect to spectacular use. B-Face, once of the Queers, shows similar restraint. That is, it would be easy for all three here to just show up and kick it out and leave, but somehow, they have found that connective tissue and have recorded as a full on band, and not just three dudes.

The point of most covers albums is to give you insight into an artist’s own make-up and process all while crafting a cohesive release. This certainly is an enjoyable, and even fun, cohesive release that does what all good covers albums should do- it doesn’t feel like a covers album at all. But, as to insight into who Kepi is? For as much musical handholding we get, the living cartoon Kepi seems to stand in front of that human guy Jeff. On songs like the cars cover, “Since you’ve been gone,” where Kepi laments with heartfelt authenticity, I think I can see Jeff behind the flashing animation… I think…