Mark Lesseraux – Get Your Back Up Off the Wall

Mark Lesseraux - Get Your Back Up Off the Wall

Have you been jonesing for unorthodox treatments of funk or glam hits from the disco era?  Brian Eno and Betty Davis fans rejoice; Mark Lesseraux – of the Brooklyn-based indie pop quintet The Citizens – satiates your boogying impulses on his latest solo release, Get Your Back Up Off the Wall.  Loosely using the art of dance as the record’s unifying theme, Lesseraux propagates nearly a dozen of his own adaptations on pop music classics from the past 40 years, ranging from more obvious dancefloor choices like Kool & the Gang’s “Get Down on It” to unsuspecting classic rock hits such as Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” – a tune whose music video recalls a youthful Courteney Cox shimmying on stage alongside the Boss himself.

Covering someone else’s song is always a risky venture; play it safe and you risk accusations of being derivative and unadventurous, whereas a complete makeover might come off as a glib gesture of irony.  Clearly aware of this balancing act, Lesseraux deftly walks the line between these two extremes over the course of ten tracks, extracting recondite profundity from tunes like “Get Down on It” and Generation X’s “Dancing with Myself” while going for a more audacious approach on deep cuts by Pere Ubu and T. Rex.

While many of Lesseraux’s settings are indeed aberrant when compared with the source material, they never go so far into the unknown as to become incomprehensible.  In actuality, the most tender treatments on the record lend surprising gravitas to tunes that were once nothing more than ear candy; Lesseraux’s take on Madonna’s “Lucky Star” prizes ghostly piano and ethereal vocals where propulsive grooves and electronic percussion once reigned supreme, while the aforementioned Springsteen cover strips away all of the keyboard melodies and chugging rhythms to reveal layers of dulcet acoustic guitar and mallet percussion.

The album’s opening track “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” eschews the Gap Band’s 1980’s synthesizer funk for something more in the vein of Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz, where strummy guitars and calculated handclaps give the song a sense of indie cool.  Apparently something of a Marc Bolan fan, Lesseraux also delves into three cuts from the T. Rex catalogue, laying down a version of “Buick Mackane” that exudes as much heat and swagger as its forerunner did back in 1972.  Lesseraux takes a more reflective approach on “Cosmic Dancer/Chariot Choogle,” where acoustic guitar arpeggiations and violin melodies more readily acknowledge T. Rex’s folk-rock heritage.  Perhaps the most startling choice track of all though is Lesseraux’s reworking of Brian Eno’s “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More,” (from 1974’s Taking Tiger Mountain) which finds the songwriter employing a Brandon Flowers vocal style on Eno’s lyrics about Communist China.

To be clear, Get Your Back Up Off the Wall – a lyric taken from “Get Down on It,” no less – is not a dance album but rather one that examines the myriad ways that rhythmic movement has influenced popular music since the birth of rock n’ roll.  Most artists would’ve simply covered these, but Mark Lesseraux actually uncovers them, often peeling away the laminate of sexual provocation and sleazy indulgence that made the original songs such a great source of mindless fun when they were first released.  It should come as no shock then that most of the tracks on this record don’t lend themselves to the club, but then again, that was probably the point.  Get your back off the wall and sit down with a good pair of headphones instead.