Three blissful and face-melting covers of Lou Reed songs.
There isn’t one thing about the Turning Time Around EP that could have failed. It’s an EP in which John Cameron Mitchell (the acclaimed writer/director/star of cult Broadway musical/film Hedwig & the Angry Inch and, most recently, the scene-stealing Dan Savage avatar/boss in Aidy Bryant’s Hulu series “Shrill”), backed by the flawless Portland rock act Eyelids (a band fronted by Chris Slusarenko, producer of the legitimately bulletproof Hedwig tribute album Wig in a Box, and Decemberist John Moen) deliver three blissful and face-melting covers of Lou Reed songs, an act inspired by Mitchell performing at the behest of Laurie fucking Anderson. Oh, and it’s to raise money for Mitchell’s sick mother. What could possibly go wrong?
Frankly, the fact that this is only getting those four stars at the top of this review is meant to serve as punishment for the collection being so short – and for not inexplicably also containing fellow Reed scholar Ezra Furman. Though each song of the collection loses the charm inherent in Reed’s sing-talk delivery, they more than make up for it by gaining Mitchell’s dynamic range – sometimes ethereal, sometimes a force of nature, always clear as a bell. He charms the pants off you immediately in the opener, Ecstasy’s “Turning Time Around,” playfully nodding to his position as a cover artist: “Laurie says, ‘What do you call love?’ Lou says, ‘I call it Harry’,” the latter delivered in a coy Reed voice. This isn’t the song’s only revision, ending with an intense, psychedelic interpolation of WB Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” (which he did at a Reed tribute performance with Anthem: Homunculus composer Bryan Weller) The two songs after this will do next to nothing to reinterpret the music, and they’re all the better for it – it’s more fun to hear these people inhabit the music.
This is where the prowess of Eyelids comes in, who embody the music so well, you’ll probably be a little angry that we’ll never get to see Reed play with Eyelids. It’s enough that they’re able to mimic whichever background players Reed had for “Turning Time Around” or the blistering “Waves of Fear” (which, combined with how possessed Mitchell sounds, is on-point enough to worry that black magic was involved), but then we reach “I Found a Reason” from the Velvet Underground’s farewell Loaded, with the band magically nailing their roles as Mitchell’s Doug Yule, Mo Tucker, and Sterling Morrison, complete with harmonies.
No, really, where’s the rest? Perhaps the briefness of Turning Time Around is the key to the EP’s success: it’s long enough to leave an impression, but short enough that it never even comes close to overstaying its welcome. On the other hand, that could be a way of looking for (theoretical) faults with this brief collection, as it’s exceedingly rare to find a tribute that leaves you wanting much, much more – a full album, a tour, something else that utilizes just how dialed-in this collaboration sounds and gives us an inarguable reason to throw money at a worthy cause.