What do you get if you take 11 artists from the British New Wave scene and 13 songs by a number of artists (Little Richard, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols and Bob Marley, to name a few) and put them together on one album?
If you think you get a party, you're only half right. You get Party Party, a fun new British soundtrack LP featuring Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Dave Edmunds, Sting, Madness and others in some surprising ways.
The album's first surprise is Costello's title track, a raucous tale of drunkenness, girl-chasing and wrist-slashing that sets the mood for the whole record. It may be the most fully realized work Costello has done in a three-minute context, and it also marks how much he has changed from his original angst-ridden sound.
Now, he's almost a fun-loving frat boy when he sings: "We're gonna drink enough tonight to drown the average army / By New Year's Day the next-door neighbors will be going barmy."
"Party Party" is followed by Edmunds' rendition of the Yuletide rockabilly number "Run, Rudolph, Run" and Altered Images' version of "Little Town Flirt," in which the Del Shannon classic is given a Chipmunk-style high-speed treatment.
Bananarama's "No Feelings" is another of the album's high points. Here, the Sex Pistols' exercise in narcissism is done in a girl-group mode, making fun of the self-pity usually prevalent in the genre.
On the second side, a couple of familiar tunes are given gender switches. Modern Romance first gives an electronic, male performance of a real girl group song, Cathy Jean and the Roommates' "Band of Gold." Pauline Black then gives a female interpretation of Bob Marley's reggae classic "No Woman, No Cry."
More reggae is provided by Bad Manners, whose "Elizabethan Reggae" is a short but jaunty dance number. The group also does a passable cover of the Coasters' 1958 send-up "Yakety Yak."
The best surprise on Party Party, however,is the performance of Sting. As lead singer of the Police, he has increasingly grown more distant from his audience, changing from the young romantic of Outlandos d'Amour to his current persona as golden-haired darling of the Andy Warhol set.
But his two numbers on this album reconfirm his ability to put over a song: he turns Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad" into a painful plea for passion, while he shows himself to be a real rocker with Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti."
The album also includes Madness' "Driving in My Car," Midge Ure's synthetic reworking of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and Chas and Dave's rocking version of "Auld Lang Syne."
While none of the covers on Party Party truly transcends the originals, the new interpretations are interesting and fun. Along with Costello's title track, they definitely make Party Party worth a listen. A-wop-bop-a-lu-bop-a-wop-ba m-boom!