Picks and Pans Review: Rubaiyat

updated 10/15/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/15/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Various Artists

At times cacophonous but never dull, this is a two-album set of old hits from the Elektra label (and its associated companies), performed by current Elektra musicians.

Much of it is notable mainly for its curiosity value. The Gipsy Kings's Euroglot rendering of the Eagles's "Hotel California." for instance, is disorienting in the extreme—the reverse of moving London Bridge to Arizona. The Cure does two versions of the Doors's "Hello. I Love You.' " one of them devoted mostly to belligerent squawking. The Pixies turn the Paul Butter-field Blues Band's tune "Born in Chicago" into a condemnation of the Windy City and the breeze it came in on. Michael Fein-stein's superdramatic performance wrings every drop of meaning out of Judy Collins's "Both Sides Now." then throws it down and stomps on it for good measure.

But there are some very musical surprises too. Gospel-trained Jevetta Steele, for example, turns the sappy soft-drink jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" into a lament about how much better things might be. Teddy Pendergrass puts some body into the soggy Bread hit "Make It with You." John Eddie lends a Springsteenish tinge to the Cure's 'In Between Days."

(The Cure and Jackson Browne are the only ones to be both reviver and revivee, with Browne singing the Incredible String Band's "First Girl I Loved." while 10.000 Maniacs does Browne's "These Days.")

Then there's Linda Ronstadt's a cappella version of the Kathy & Carol folk song "The Blacksmith." Tracy Chapman's resonant "House of the Rising Sun" (a hit for, among others. Glenn Yarbrough in his post-Limeliter period), the Sugarcubes's funny "Motorcycle Mama" (originally done by Sailcat) and They Might Be Giants's relatively straight updating of Phil Ochs's antiwar song "One More Parade."

For all its dedication to weirdness for weirdness's sake, the package, created by executive producer Lenny Kaye in celebration of Elektra's 40th anniversary, is very entertaining. (The title comes, says Elektra Entertainment chairman Bob Krasnow, from the fact that "first and foremost, it's a beautiful word. The ruby is the 40th-anniversary stone, and Edmund Fitzgerald's 19th-century translation of Omar Khayyam's original work was a great cover version.") The idea is one that other labels might emulate. Wouldn't you like to hear a Columbia package that included Public Enemy doing "When the Moon Comes over the Mountain," New Kids on the Block singing "Subterrancan Homesick Blues" or Michael Jackson with "Que Sera, Sera"? Something like that, anyway. (Elektra)

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