[sic] Magazine

First Glances – Scammers

A faithful cover version is, of course, pointless. When you pair the recognisable with the entirely new, however, you have potential at least. Kansas City resident Phil Diamond takes it one step further on his recent Songs Of Suspect Origin EP and he poses some big questions in the process, taking pristine Philip Glass compositions and, literally, covering them with his own song-writing.

He freely admits this endeavour is an “artistic statement” and that all “music” is appropriated. At what point then does influence stop and theft begin? Lawyers typically start to become involved when money is made using someone else’s handiwork. It’s worth noting at this point that the pragmatically titled Songs Of Suspect Origin is free to download in its current guise. In any case, it’s hardly a new discussion whichever way you look at it. Diamond just adds an extra dimension, raising another interesting point as he goes.

What, for example, makes folk music, folk music? What precisely is electronica? Diamond writes off these classifications as the arbitrary preserve of “lazy” music journalists, but he makes an important addendum. Can you change a song’s genre by, simply, switching the underlying “music”? Can you do the reverse by adding a certain type of lyrics to an easily pigeonholed melody? Could, as Diamond himself says, “Leonard Cohen add lyrics to a Oneohtrix Point Never piece, pulling off an original work of art, or would it be received as satire, an insult to the original piece?” Interestingly, Diamond’s own louche baritone does recall some of Cohen’s more playful work so it’s unlikely he picked these touchstones from thin air whatever the answer.

Art needn’t be provocative, but the most memorable of it does demand a response and these reworked songs are, mostly, wonderful. Though helped along considerably by Glass’s own talent – it must be said – Diamond’s cavalier approach to art and opportunity is nevertheless impressive, his efforts bringing to mind, for example, Rufus Wainwright’s Boléro-heavy “Oh What A World”. Truly, if you didn’t know what you were listening to during parts of Songs On Suspect Origin you’d be hailing it as genius … because, sacrilege or not, it is. You have the impression all the same, such is the strength of Diamond’s vocal tracks, that even without music they’d have an allure. Diamond claims that one day he’ll create “original music” for them. Ironically, given the context of their first appearance, might they not only disappoint?