Tributes, concepts, all-covers discs, soundtracks—they're all tricky balancing acts, and they rarely work as front-to-back albums. The best a fan can hope for is that the disc they bought in order to get one song will include a pleasant surprise or two. It makes sense for the iTunes generation to purchase single songs rather than full sets, though the Stubbs The Zombie video-game soundtrack is a rare exception. (The creators apparently weren't willing to take chances, though: A couple of songs by bigger names are only available to people who buy the whole thing.) The covers-concept-tribute-soundtrack disc features O.C.-worthy artists tackling well-known pop songs from the '50s and '60s, a simple idea that could've been snoozy, but mostly turned out great.
The straightest readings feel the most natural: Screwing around too much with "Earth Angel" wouldn't have made sense for Death Cab For Cutie, who treat it like a revered prom treat. Even The Raveonettes, who might be expected to get catty and strange, are fairly hands-off with "My Boyfriend's Back." Rogue Wave neatly processes Buddy Holly through The Shins on "Everyday," and Clem Snide proves that "Tears On My Pillow" is a classic, even completely out of context. Leaving the blueprint behind yields mixed results: The Walkmen turn The Drifters' "There Goes My Baby" into an amazing Walkmen song, while Rose Hill Drive breaks the mood with the terribly incongruous rocker "Shakin' All Over." But on the whole, Stubbs The Zombie is the rare compilation that won't badly deteriorate the "fwd" button.