In the mid 1990s Arjen Anthony Lucassen wanted a break from composing epic prog operas for his long-running Ayreon project and decided to record a bunch of his favourite tunes from the 60s. Strange Hobby was originally released anonymously and, after being out of print for a decade, here it comes again, beefed up with four bonus cuts.
Lucassen plays and sings everything himself and there’s certainly no faulting his choice of material which includes Pink Floyd’s Arnold Layne, The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon, Status Quo’s Pictures Of Matchstick Men and Ride A White Swan from T. Rex, even a little obscurity in the shape of (Further Reflections) In the Room of Percussion by cult Brit psychers Kaleidoscope. Lucassen gives everything a heavy glam rock sheen, although the decision to put so much compression and to layer effects on the vocals renders everything a little inhuman.
Presumably Lucassen wanted to hide his identity – perhaps to gain some creative freedom – on the 1996 release, but at times it comes perilously close to sounding like it was created with Vocaloid software or Autotune. When Lucassen’s natural voice finally surfaces on the four bonus tracks, it’s positively refreshing and really elevates his take on Last Train To Clarksville.
The production works best on the songs most suited to layered, overdriven guitars and punchy metal drums, Dylan’s I Want You is channelled via Cheap Trick, but it makes for an odd fit on The Beach Boys’ Sloop John B. Plenty of artists have made albums of their favourite tracks – Alice Cooper’s recent Hollywood Vampires record springs to mind.
The question that always hangs over such endeavours is how to make it worth listening to a cover instead of the original. It’s not clear that Lucassen has an answer – he stays completely faithful to the structure of the songs and never takes any real chances.
Everything on Strange Hobby is well played and performed, but you’ve literally heard it all before.