Postmodern Jukebox puts a jazz spin on classic songs
Erin Swope | Thursday, September 27, 2018
Most would not wonder what “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes would sound like as a vintage New Orleans dirge or what “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers would sound like in 1940s Rat Pack style, but Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, abbreviated as PMJ, is all about putting a jazz spin on modern songs like these and many more.
With over 1 billion views on YouTube, PMJ has grown from being filmed in Bradlee’s apartment in Astoria, New York to a global phenomenon selling out shows and topping the iTunes jazz charts, all without the support of a major label or corporate sponsorship. PMJ’s ambitious new album “Blue Mirror,” which marks the beginning of the group’s second season of videos, reflects their growth while also serving fans the same style that garnered PMJ their success.
“Blue Mirror,” the group’s twenty-first album, tackles covering some of the pop music industry’s biggest hits including a ‘50s style cover of “Africa” by Toto and jazz covers of songs ranging from ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” to Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle.”
The nine songs from PMJ’s “Blue Mirror” can be divided for the most part into two categories: covers that sound just like slightly jazzed up versions of the originals and covers that have completely reworked the original song. For example, while the instrumentation behind the vocals on “Africa” was vastly different from Toto’s original (think a lot more brass), the vocals and the music were fairly true to Toto’s original, even including an electric guitar solo. The song has an upbeat ‘50s jazz feel to it that obviously wasn’t present in the original, but overall it wasn’t a major departure from the roots of the song. Casey Abrams delivers especially strong vocals on the track as he blends the rock styles of the original and the jazz style of the cover.
On the other hand, the group’s ‘60s jazz style cover of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” feels like listening to a completely different song. Except for the vocal riffs and having the same lyrics, the song feels completely unrecognizable with its ‘60s style electric guitar riffs and lack of synthesizers.
Regardless of what style PMJ chooses to cover each song in, as with their previous albums, the musicianship on the album is excellent. One of the advantages of having a rotating cast of singers and musicians is that PMJ can find vocalists whose style perfectly matches the style of jazz that the cover is done in. That is one thing that PMJ does especially well on this album, establishing the style of each cover and executing it thoroughly.
Of course, a big aspect of Postmodern Jukebox is also their YouTube videos, which include cast members in historically appropriate costumes, tap dancers and other such pageantry. So far, for their second season of music videos, PMJ has only released one video, a short film for their cover of “Africa.” Unlike most of their previous videos, which featured one-camera shots, the “Africa” music video is shot from multiple angles. It will be interesting to see if future PMJ videos will follow this style or if they will return to their tried-and-true style.
While a few of the covers on the album seem to lack the certain originality and innovative style that PMJ has come to be known for — “Life on Mars?” and “High and Dry” seem especially too similar, overall the album is another success for the group and marks a strong beginning to their second season of videos.
Artist: Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox
Album: “Blue Mirror”
Favorite Tracks: “Welcome to the Black Parade,” “Genie in a Bottle”
If You Like: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Puppini Sisters, Caro Emerald
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5.