Covers albums are always a dicey affair, an exercise that says much more about the performer than it might necessarily about the songs selected. And if a continuum of covers exists, at one end might sit many of Laibach’s works, retoolings of Queen, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones designed to reveal the totalitarianism that sits just beneath the surface of innocuous pop hits. At the other end might sit Morrissey’s California Son, tired and largely faithful to the originals, an overwrought exercise in indulgence. Between these sits Candy the new album from <PIG>.

Raymond Watts’ pedigree is, amongst the electro-industrial set at least, unquestioned. The mind behind <PIG>, an early member of KMFDM and touring presence with Nine Inch Nails and Einstürzende Neubauten among others, has built a career on producing albums that contain both hard-edge digital stompers and the kinds of broken-down-crooner-in-a-dive-bar ballads that comprise the greater part of Candy. However, the giddy possibilities of an industrial exploration of some of pop’s more saccharine moments are left unrealized and, instead, Candy is largely a grim and unsatisfying exercise.

Watts comments that the songs were chosen quickly, and it shows. Where, for example, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads or Kicking Against the Pricks collate songs in order to provide a holistic listening experience, it’s difficult to see what links the songs on Candy to each other, either in terms of their overall concerns or in relation to the ways Watts interprets them. The album’s governing thesis is that while these songs “may seem sweet, inviting and harmless at first glance…there’s something sinister beneath.” And while he is spot-on in his revealing of the barely restrained erotic and pathological underbelly to these pop hits, the gurgles, squeals and groans Watts utters as asides to the lyrics soon become tiresome, an unnecessary distraction from the vocals which are often the most interesting aspects of these versions.

The album’s opener, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” keeps the mournful guitars of the original but switches the gendered pronouns so that the lines “My head is saying fool forget her/ My heart is saying don’t let go” conjure a kind of threat that, when sung in Watts’ signature growl, is simply unfunny. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” offers a duet that turns the song into a hymn to co-dependence between equally culpable parties, while the better-realized “If You Go Away” provides a bleak vision of the punishment meted out should one actually leave, less the introspective darkness of Scott Walker’s version and more a hint towards violence and self-destruction that the orchestral bombast—all timpani, cymbals and strings—cleverly supports.

While “Love Is in the Air’” is drained of John Paul Young’s disco rhythms and becomes an eight-minute, half-speed grind that is frankly wearisome, “That’s the Way (I Like It)” utterly works, the slight decrease in tempo and addition of pitch-shifted vocal duets bringing forward the gritty sexiness of the original without losing the funk. Equally, while the oft-covered “Kiss” might have been more successfully rendered elsewhere, here it’s a serviceable example of Candy’s overall thesis, with a fine horn section rounding out a valiant backing chorus over which Watts grunts and pants, sounding like the drunk uncle at a wedding reception karaoke—perhaps not quite the effect that was sought, but one that manages to prevent the song from sliding further from self-loathing into parody. 

Ultimately, though, it’s difficult to see what the point to this release is. “That’s the Way (I Like It)” was released as a single in 2018, followed by Black Mass, a fundraising EP of Christmas tunes (including a perfectly twisted cover of Wham!’s “Last Christmas”) that more successfully does in three songs what Candy largely fails to realize in 14 (on the CD version, at least). Listeners interested in an electro-industrial revision of pop classics would be better served by any of Leæther Strip’s Æppreciation albums. Listeners of Candy are likelier to find that the pleasures of novelty offered by these covers are overwhelmed by an inauthentic grittiness that is far better realized in Watts’ original works.

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