Scott Bradlee’s 'OK Crooner' is way better than just OK

Monday, October 12, 2020 - 1:24pm

NOSELL

Postmodern Jukebox

The latest album from Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, OK Crooner, opens with a question, à la the Spice Girls: “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” Ironically, Bradlee’s cover of the Spice Girls song “Wannabe” has made an appearance once before; in the Michigan Daily’s 2020 summer album roundup, which also featured a review of Postmodern Jukebox, my answer to this same question was short and simple: what we really, really want is more Postmodern Jukebox! With OK Crooner, our wish has been granted. 

The latest album is a compilation of new and old hits. Those who are familiar with Bradlee’s previous release, BACK When They Called It Music: The ‘90s, Vol. 1, will recognize several tracks: “Wannabe,” “This Is How We Do It,” “I’ll Be There for You (Theme From “Friends”)” and “Shoop.” The covers of these classic ’90s hits had the perfect balance of nostalgia and fresh reinvention. The rest of OK Crooner follows this familiar Bradlee recipe to success. 

As the album title suggests, OK Crooner recalls the style of old time crooners like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole (to name a few). With its big band instrumentation, heavy vocal emphasis and old-style flair, if I didn’t know better I could easily mistake some of these tracks for swing originals. They’re so good, in fact, that a few Postmodern Jukebox tracks have made their way onto my “purest” swing playlist on Spotify. 

While it’s hard to pick a favorite when every track provides riotous fun, Sweet Megg’s cover of The Strokes’s “Last Nite” and Ashley Stroud’s cover of Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” are particularly impressive. At the heart of it all, OK Crooner is fun. I know that sounds a little underwhelming, but sometimes simplicity captures it best. From start to finish, I couldn’t keep a smile off my face. Stumbling across Blondie’s “Call Me” was only the half of it. Did I mention Nena’s German pop hit “99 Luftballons” is on it, too? During times like these, I think it says a lot that Bradlee and his crew managed to override seasonal, political and pandemic depression. 

Part of the fun comes from the delightful combination of ’20s prohibition-era jazz electricity, an elegant crooner style and nostalgic hits. Everyone loves to belt out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and, believe it or not, it’s somehow more fun with a violin solo. Weird, I know. But no one can say that folks living in the prohibition era didn’t know how to party; after-all, underground shin-digs and Gatsby showbiz were the name of their game. 

On top of that, the level of girl-power energy in the album is addictive. Noticeably, OK Crooner features a lot of female vocalists as well as covers of songs by prominent girl-power groups. Lizzo, Blondie, Nena and the Spice Girls are well-matched with some of Bradlee’s most impressive performers: Sweet Megg, Tess Mohr and Ashley Stroud, to name a few. 

Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is also unique in its rotating cast of diverse artists. While Bradlee’s style of reimagining classic songs into other genres remains constant, a variety of instrumentalists and vocalists are featured between tracks and albums. Every performance is a little different, and not just in the traditional boundaries of ensemble experimentation. By making the unexpected a part of the band’s very ethos, Bradlee & Co. are able to effortlessly deliver fresh material with consistent quality. That is to say, you just know everything Postmodern Jukebox puts out will be fun, exciting and different. 

Case-in-point: the cover of pop-rock group The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You.” The song starts off as swing, then dramatically shifts halfway through to an electric guitar rock ballad. 

This success does ride on the coattails of other great performers –– it is undeniable that Bradlee generates much of his buzz based on the popularity of the songs he covers. Unlike other bands, Postmodern Jukebox isn’t trying to create original material, but rather to reinvent. However, while music writers like me will often lament a musician’s inability to produce something new, Bradlee slips past these pitfalls; he embraces the old and uses that to discover new heights. 

Daily Arts Writer Madeleine Virginia Gannon can be reached at mvmg@umich.edu.


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