Jeffrey Lewis - 12 Crass Songs (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Jeffrey Lewis

12 Crass Songs (2008)

Rough Trade

Now if someone told you that an "anti-folk" recording artist was recording covers of 12 Crass songs for his latest project, I know what most of you would be saying: "Dude, I haven't listened to Crass since I was like twelve. Get with it." All right, okay -- that's fine. You can talk shit all you want. We all know you were exclusively listening to ska bands whose names had animals or condiments in them. It's okay to admit you've never heard Crass. It's also okay to say that you don't like Crass. Nobody's judging anybody.

Except Jeffrey Lewis, who has specifically stated in a comic book page that he absolutely thinks Crass is fan-fucking-tastic and has no other reason for wanting to record 12 Crass songs.

And that's the best part of the album. The passion for the original works is apparent in the time Mr. Lewis has devoted to these songs. And surprisingly? Crass lyrics work really well translated as a rambling folkster's rants...especially when the songs aren't rewritten, just re-arranged. "End Result" and "I Ain't Thick" are the best blueprint for the album's construction, featuring the same chord progressions as the originals picked out on an acoustic guitar. Filling out the sound are backing vocals, auxiliary percussion (like bells and shit), and plinking piano on top of metronome style backbeats.

"Systematic Death" features some twangy riffing and country-style bass rhythms while "The Gasman Cometh" is a quiet bluegrass pickin' shuffle with a frightening flute trilling out of key over it. But not all of the forays into rootsy arrangments work out the way intended. "Banned from the Roxy," "Do They Owe" and "Big A, Little A" feel flat. The subject matter overtakes the musical direction.

"Punk Is Dead" is extremely charming as a Dylan-style folk song picked out on acoustic guitar alone. A simple deliverance of the lyrics gives an interesting take on Crass' political analysis. "Securicor" is a jaunty acoustic romp. "Demoncrats" offers a slow take on the original featuring odd keyboards and triangles, sounding like a Belle and Sebastian filler song.

Perhaps the biggest travesty/triumph of the album is "Walls," which starts out with a low-key techno beat, funk bass, Indian drums, and dub-style melodica playing. It's the first time on the album that Jeffrey Lewis attempts some musical styling that pushes boundaries, but the delivery of the lyrics is sloppy and overtakes the party.

I don't think I'd be able to recommend this album to Crass fans OR Jeffrey Lewis fans. Or maybe I should recommend this album only to Crass and Jeffrey Lewis fans. It's hard to describe what to expect, and taking Crass out of the equation when calculating its worth makes for an interesting album. But in the post-Juno/Moldy Peaches resurgence haze, the last thing I want to hear are the words "anti-folk."