Are there any decent tribute albums? How about benefit records? They all mean well, and can do a lot of good, but you'll be lucky to get a handful of standouts on that plausible Kerrang! Tribute to Van Halen or the inevitable Live Aid 3. It's hard to think of a more admirable organization than Amnesty International, but their benefit albums are a waste of plastic. Better to make a donation rather than purchase a two-CD set of Jack Johnson, Christina Aguilera, Big & Rich, Avril Lavigne and the Black-Eyed Peas covering John Lennon. I can't even bring myself to remember who's on the Bob Dylan tribute.
Yet, Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur comes with one lovely track, an iTunes-only extra from the Deftones.
It takes a combination of balls and/or ignorance to cover a John Lennon song, particularly one that already has a famous Roxy Music version. But the Deftones find a new angle, exercising a Radiohead influence and letting bassist Chi Cheng direct. The strings and keyboard are stripped to a lonesome guitar line, beneath Chino Moreno's most fragile singing on record. The arrangement only gets slightly heavier throughout the verses, but the crescendo that Moreno unloads in the last pair of choruses convinced me that he's a musician.
It's hard for me to find sympathy for the song's narrator, who reminds me of Bob Dylan's guy who didn't mean to treat you so bad. But I still believe him.
For Chi Cheng.