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Various Artists

Capitol

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Just when you were hoping you’d seen the last of tribute albums, along comes Beat the Retreat, a collection that fully justifies what is by now an extremely tired idea. X’s cover of “Shoot Out the Lights” and R.E.M.’s take on “Wall of Death” kick off the disc, but a surprise awaits those expecting the usual degeneration into filler—Beat actually gets better as it goes along. Backed by X’s rhythm section, Bob Mould delivers a “Turning of the Tide” that is among the tracks that make Beat a cohesive album with a shape and pace of its own. Whereas the matching of song to performer on most tributes is maddeningly capricious, the pairings on Beat are so right that many of the songs don’t sound like covers at all. X’s contribution, Los Lobos’ “Down Where the Drunkards Roll,” Graham Parker’s “The Madness of Love,” Dinosaur Jr’s “I Misunderstood,” and David Byrne’s “Just the Motion” suit the performers stylistically as well as thematically. And as if the weighings-in of all these alternarock elder statesmen weren’t enough, Beat even features a Sandy Denny sound-alike contest between June Tabor and Maddy Prior, who get two songs apiece.