Well, folks, here it is, the much-awaited second album from the Danish band "PRESS PLAY ON TAPE" (with Martin Koch and Jesper Holm Olsen on guitars, Uffe Friis Lichtenberg on bass, Søren Trautner Madsen on drums and Theo Engell- Nielsen and André Tischer Poulsen on keyboards). Maybe you've heard some of it at Back In Time Live 4 in Brighton at the band's highly successful live concert, maybe you just read about it on the online forums. Either way, the question is, does it live up to the expectations?
Let's find out!
Take the CD in your hands and it's immediately obvious that the CD sleeve and the CD design is a piece of art by itself with the Commodore-64 fans very much in mind. I don't want to reveal all of its subtle and not-so-subtle gags, suffice to say that even if you get only half of the jokes, you will be ROTFL. It has everything from scantily clad wet ladies to Kraftwerk references. And it does it all with containing actual information, too, like a tracklist, lyrics, etc. A lot of care and C64 love was put into this booklet and it's definitely one of the most impressive ones I've ever seen on the SID remix scene.
How about the album itself? Well, it starts off with an energetic piece that sets the tone right away. "Hypa-ball vs. Mission A.D." provides that great football stadium feel in the first half then it transitions smoothly to Mission A.D. It's a great mix, although I would've prefered a Hypa-ball-only piece - it would've been able to stand alone as a longer tune.
The second track is "Arkanoid", PPOT's first foray into singing. The lyrics here are a bit too simple and most of the time the vocals get lost in the mix, but overall, it's a great cover. My other problem with it: it's too short!
This is followed by a Danish game's tune that was composed by a Danish guy, and it is played by this Danish SID cover band - how appropriate! I'm talking about the next track, "Tiger Mission", an often underrated tune by the often underrated Johannes Bjerregaard. Personally, I'm very pleased to see that PPOT took a crack at it. Frankly, it was an obvious choice as the tune fits their rock band setup perfectly. It's a solid cover, but it would've been nice to hear all of the lead played on a guitar instead of a synth. This piece also covers the bit more laid-back in-game tune - overall they did a great job with both of them.
On the next track PPOT made a surprising choice to get around my complaint about the lack of a guitar lead - they sing it instead! Yes, the entire lead of "Phantom (of the Asteroids)" is replaced by singing! With lyrics! That make sense! At times it's wicked fast, too. This piece reminds me a lot of Green Day (especially their song "Basket Case") mixed with Metallica, mostly because of the lead singer's voice (who is actually the drummer, Søren Trautner Madsen). And you know what? It works! It's bloody awesome, but yet again I find this tune short, too (it's less than 3 minutes long). Maybe because I just can't get enough of these guys who are obviously having a lot of fun coming up with covers like this one!
"Kettle" is yet another underrated tune, composed by Ben Daglish. In fact, I don't think anybody ever covered this tune before PPOT, which I find quite surprising, because it's quite a groovy piece. Some more slides would've helped on the lead in PPOT's cover, but this is just nitpicking, because it's a very good piece of work that follows the original rather closely.
The upbeat, Caribbean start of "Bionic Commando" takes a more clubby/technoish turn midway thanks to DHS of SoundWavers. It's enjoyable, but I don't think it fits into the album's concept very well.
Next up is a PPOT piece that should be very familiar to every hardcore SID fan by now: their cover of "Comic Bakery". This one is a pared down remix of the famous boy-band version which is available as a free download at R.K.O. I actually prefer that one over this one on the album, even though Martin Galway himself made a surprise guest appearance on this version. And the accompanying videoclip should've been included on a data track portion on the CD - it's a must see! (Although it's available online, too, at PPOT's website.) But those who've never heard its hilarious lyrics will surely enjoy this version a lot, too.
Providing a nice relaxing break in the middle of the album is "Nemesis the Warlock", a slow ballad with a very symphonic feeling that is also the longest track on the CD with almost 7 minutes.
I keep saying that it's hard to follow Reyn Ouwehand's "Asian Legends" with anything that can impress me, but PPOT did the best they could within their bounds with the next track, "The Way of the Exploding Fist" - the feeling is definitely there.
Track number ten is "Fairlight" which contains some very nice, almost romantic guitar playing, I'm quite impressed with it! There's nothing surprising here, nothing outlandish, it's just a very solid cover. Its ending, though, is kinda awkward. But I'm nitpicking again.
Another tune that fits PPOT's setup perfectly is the next piece, "Star Paws" by Rob Hubbard. In fact, this is almost exactly how I always imagined this tune! Well done, guys, not much I can complain about here! (Which is unusual for me...)
Next up is "Flimbo's Quest". Imagine Reyn Ouwehand's fantastic version with live instrumentation and you get this. The arrangement is essentially same, although truth to be told it's hard to do anything else but funky upbeat style with this tune.
And now for something completely different: "Defender of the Crown". It's bloody awesome! I am left totally speechless by it. Get ready for a big surprise: it's the English bards singing an a capella version of the Joseph Richard classic. I'm serious! It's bloody awesome and wrapped in a very funny little gag.
"Roland's Rat Race" also contains an interesting twist, because it's basically a jazzy version of what I've always imagined as a more playful tune. Guest artist Søren Bentzen plays saxophone on this one - and very well might I say. Kudos to PPOT for not being afraid of stretching their artistic boundaries!
Guys, I can't help but smile now whenever I hear your version of the "Wizball High Score". Having seen Søren Madsen (the drummer) in a leisure suit and sunglasses with shakers in his hands at BIT Live 4 is an image I will never ever forget. Now, the recording of that performance is another videoclip that should've been included on this CD!...
I can't get nearly as excited by the next cover which is "Sacred Armour of Antiriad", but then the original never excited me, either. It's a fine tune with a good arrangement, but that's about it.
"Crazy Comets" provides a fantastic uptempo closure to the album. PPOT did a superb job of getting most of the "ear-candy" of Hubbard's tune out of their guitars. It's one very groovy piece! If your feet are not moving after the first minute then there's something wrong with you.
There you have it, 18 tracks of pure nostalgia squeezed into roughly 57 minutes. (Yes, I missed a track in my review, but I'm sure you'll figure out which one and why.)
It's hard to strike a balance between how many tunes to include on an album versus how long to make them. On this album PPOT opted to include more tracks - but for that they had to make them shorter. Over half of them are shorter than 3 minutes and only one of them is longer than 5 minutes. This is my only chief complaint about their album, because otherwise I am very pleased with it. (The official response by PPOT to this: "Luckily, most modern CD-players come with a repeat-button.") Their selection of tunes provides a good balance between well-known, oft-covered classics and lesser known, rarely remixed SID tunes.
All the tracks are straightforward, fairly faithful cover versions - which is another explanation to their shortness, because the original tunes are relatively short, too. If you want variations and improvisations, you just have to go to one of their live performances which are also getting more and more amazing.
An interesting tidbit about this album is that each member of PPOT was put in full charge of one track (that's six in total) from concept to final production. That person decided which tune to play, how to play it, how to mix it, etc. PPOT will let us guess exactly who was in charge of which track...
Despite this unique "distributed" production idea, the album as a whole is fairly cohesive: the first half of the album presents the more "traditional" PPOT, while the second half of the album is more playful with some risky, but rather successful sidesteps to different genres. The album shows an obvious improvement in their guitar playing skills, a more precise, tighter play and great teamwork. The sound quality also seems better than on their first album, "Loading Ready Run", maybe due to better mixing and/or better mike recording.
In other words PPOT has really "grown up", so to say: over time, and definitely with this second album they became a great fusion of nostalgia, self-deprecating humor and just all around good fun. Thanks, guys, for this great album! I enjoyed it a lot and I'm sure a lot of other SID fans will, too.