Cover versions can prove to be tricky territory for even the best of bands. At their best they can re-invent and breathe new life into tired old standards providing a fresh perspective on something familiar. At their worst however, they can be nothing more than embarrassing train wrecks, not even fit for release as b-sides or bonus tracks. The Darcys then, have taken a huge gamble releasing a whole album of covers in this, Aja, a re-imagining of the Steely Dan album of the same name from 1977. That's right, not content with bashing around one tune from the album, they have overhauled the whole album.
On first impressions, what strikes you about The Darcys version of Aja is that almost all of the jazz elements from Steely Dan's original are gone, and in their place are layers of guitar, haunting, echoed vocals and minimal, programmed percussion. On early listens, it seems like all of the original albums personality has been replaced with a post-Radiohead greyness which is difficult to penetrate and really enjoy. It is a big step away from Steely Dan, but given time and repeated plays, there is a great deal to enjoy here. It is essential that you detach yourself from the original versions of the songs to do this.
The album's opening song, Black Cow is a slow burner which features a wall of guitar and programmed drums underneath lilting, distant vocals. It is an impressive opening, and this tone continues with the title track, Aja and Deacon Blues. These songs are desolate reinterpretations but they do become a little monotonous.
The second half of the album has a little more personality. Peg is a riotous almost punk number and Home At Last, although once more a slow number visits some of the jazz tones of the original work. It is these songs in particular where the major payoff is. These versions are magnificent, confident pieces, building up to epic conclusions with more of a live band feel than the computer generated, cold beginning and end to the album.
In conclusion then, this is an album of hits and misses. In places it can become a little dull, but when The Darcys get it right, they are thrilling. The musicianship is here in spades, and you have to give them credit for having the sheer balls to try and pull this off. That this work stands so far away in terms of sound and tone from the Steely Dan original is a triumph in itself, and like the Steely Dan original, this is an album that requires a bit of effort and work, but once you unlock it, the rewards are definitely there.