An explanation for the continuing endurance of Buddy Holly’s musical legacy can probably be boiled down to one word: simplicity. The bespectacled pioneer’s invention (that is, rock n’ roll) was a fresh sound drawn from disparate influences and then refined into its purest form—essentially, a four-chord distillation of country, blues, and rockabilly that tapped into the pathos of a younger generation. The drawback of such a legacy, of course, is that every few years audiences are subjected to yet another collection of artists attempting to put their half-assed stamp on Holly’s prolific work. Thus, we now have Rave on Buddy Holly, which unites newcomers like Florence and the Machine, She & Him, and the Black Keys with veterans like Paul McCartney and Lou Reed in what can only be described as a collective assault on Holly’s genre innovation.
There are a handful of bright spots in Rave On‘s otherwise dreary offerings. Fiona Apple and Jon Brion’s version of “Every Day” keeps the original’s bittersweet plainness at the forefront, with the chilly beauty of Apple’s voice providing an added layer of forlorn charm to the pining. The Black Keys’ raw, back-to-the-basics blues-rock milieu is already practically a spiritual heir of Holly’s stripped-down sound, so their inclusion on Rave On is a no-brainer, and their naked take on the yearning pleads of “Dearest” is the sound of a band at its most natural and confident.
But no matter Rave On‘s few gems, there’s no overcoming McCartney’s total dismantling of “It’s So Easy”; think of your drunk uncle butchering a karaoke favorite at a wedding in an attempt to conjure up a youthful energy that’s long escaped him. For the former Beatle, it’s no more than cheap kabuki theater, but it’s so horribly confounding that it makes the rest of the album’s mediocre tracks far more appealing (like Florence and the Machine’s strangely anemic “Not Fade Away,” or She & Him’s “Oh Boy,” which is otherwise neutered by Zooey Deschanel’s flat, immobile voice).
McCartney’s “It’s So Easy” proves to be the most glaring of Rave On‘s missteps, but in truth, the album was flawed from conception: Holly’s music might be simple, but it’s not simplistic, and it should be handled with far more poise than what is managed here. A redeeming virtue of the album is that it could quite possibly serve as a hindrance for the release of any clunky tributes in the foreseeable future.