Granted, it was probably only a matter of time before Arkells made the mandatory mid-career unplugged album — pandemic or no pandemic.
But even if the concept is kinda lame, Max Kerman and co. get full marks for execution. Partly because they aren’t afraid to drastically reshape and recast the arrangements of their Can-rock hits instead of just playing them unplugged. And partly because they take the whole definition of “stripped-back” pretty loosely — with arrangements and instrumentation that includes everything from electric basses and keyboards to expertly rendered choir-sized backup vocals, these renditions are hardly the sort of rough-hewn, rustic fare you hear at your typical beach party. If this is how they roll around a campfire, we’re gonna need a generator. And enough marshmallows to make s’mores for a choir. Good thing they didn’t do the mid-career orchestral album.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Campfire Chords is a stripped-back collection of Arkells’ most beloved songs and marks the band’s first full-length presentation of this side of their music. While Arkells were knee-deep working on their next studio album, the quarantine forced them to take four months physically apart — the longest they’d ever spent off the road. This pause did not slow them down; but rather presented a new path. Amidst the uncertain backdrop of 2020, Arkells took a heel turn and went back to their roots, reimagining versions of their most beloved songs for a new project. From their bedrooms, Arkells began to reinterpret past material for a new project, thematically titled Campfire Chords, and rediscover the singer-songwriter spirit that has long informed their trademark singalongs. The vulnerable arrangements heard in Campfire Chords marks the band’s first full-length presentation of this side of their music. “Does it pass the campfire test?” is a question the band often asks themselves while working on new music. If a song can be stripped to its core and be sung around a campfire, “then we know we’re on our way.”