It’s difficult to separate Tony Sly the solo artist from No Use For a Name the band. Through the years the band were at their most popular, Sly was synonymous with the name and their craft. Yet it often forgotten the band were around for several years without Sly at the helm. But the truth is, while much of their earliest New Red Archives material exhibits a far “rawer” quality to it, it was with Sly that No Use For a Name became a household name in punk around the globe. Bridging the gap between melody and aggression, Sly’s songs were crafted with the backbone established in albums like Incognito, but embraced the kinds of harmonies that defined that generation’s brand of punk. And with it, No Use For a Name along with helped punk become a more visible form of musical expression.
His death was, and still is, an immensely sad and tragic occurrence whose ripple effect continues on in the community in which he was such an important part of. Now over a year since, some of his closest friends and contemporaries have put together The Songs Of Tony Sly: A Tribute, a stellar compilation that is both a homage, and a sombre remembering of Sly and his work over the years.
It would have been easy to have limited the tribute to up-tempo, melodic punk the band was synonymous with. And while the best track on here, Strung Out’s blistering cover of “Soulmate”, is just that, the work on show here goes to prove that Sly was more than just power chords and great melodies. From the opening subtle touch of Karina Danike’s cover of “Biggest Lie” (from NUFAN’s final studio album) to the ska-flavored rocksteady of Mad Caddies’ “AM” and Snuff’s almost-calypso like rendition of “On The Outside”, the diverse reconfigurations of the songs here are a great barometer of how far reaching Sly and his bandmates were in terms of the kinds of different artists they connected with.
Songs that were originally done with razor sharp distortion and hard hitting percussions are turned into acoustic-tinged reflections of musical vulnerability. Like Alkaline Trio’s almost macabre toned “Straight From The Jacket” or even Simple Plan’s weirdly bouncy reworking of one of No Use’s best tracks “Justified Black Eye”. In a sense, the latter is the one serious flaw of the album; it is a very off-putting rendition that probably has more to do with the original version being what it is (the long lasting resonance of that song done in its original form) than Simple Plan’s take on it.
The tribute’s most affecting moment is perhaps Rise Against’s cover of “For Fiona”. Tim McIlrath flies solo with a melancholy take of the song, one about Sly’s love for his daughter. In it Sly sings; “So you stay young while I get old / But always know, I’m your best friend”, and when McIlrath sings this in his piercing voice, there is an incredible sadness and finality to Sly’s passing. It’s clear how much he loved his family and when you listen to this song, you’re all but made aware of how real it is.
Purchasing this album digitally means you’re given a few extra tracks that are a nice addition to the mix. The bonus tracks include The Swellers’ version of “Chasing Rainbows” and a fantastic piano-only rendition of “International You Day” by Ryan Hardester which closes out the project in fitting and beautiful fashion.
For fans of Sly and No Use For a Name, this compilation (purchasing it) is perhaps the closest we’ll get to a contribution to his legacy. I’ve written about how Sly and his music affected me on the other side of the globe and feel that, with proceeds going to the Tony Sly Memorial Fund, this compilation is a small, but honest way of saying “thank you” to a man whose music changed people close to him, people who knew him in passing, and of course, people like me he never met.
Listen to Strung Out’s cover of “Soulmate”:
The Songs Of Tony Sly: A Tribute is available now via Fat Wreck.