Way, way back in the year of aught-five, a video game was released that reached for something outlandish— and overextended itself. Stubbs The Zombie was an original Xbox title built, ridiculously, in the same game engine as Halo. Within a futurist alt-history 1959, the player controls a zombie who was betrayed by the love of his life, and in an effort to win her back he’ll infect a whole city and turn the undead against the living until romantic fate is restored. The game blended elements of silly toxic fart spleen grenades with serious shooter mechanics within a city of tomorrow entrenched in antagonistic barbershop quartets powered by James Bond-ish jetpacks.
The lighthearted horror romance romp endeared itself to a hyper-specific cult following, but the more impressive pop contribution was the all-star lineup of artists covering 50s and 60s standards in a modern rock vein on the soundtrack. This album has always been one of my secret weapons in finishing off a killer mix CD, and now in honor of Halloween, I’m sharing it with you.
Ben Kweller - Lollipop
Downer-boy Kweller kicks us off with a drag take on the definition of candy pop. When he saunters into the second verse, it’s like catching a stolen moment of a high school musical where the cool kid dared show.
The Raveonettes - My Boyfriend’s Back
The second greatest track on the album— a perfect blend of the Danish indie duo’s inclinations met by the most obvious re-appropriated undead anthem for a zombie protagonist vehicle. Sharin just obliterates this.
Death Cab For Cutie - Earth Angel
If I was a bigger Cab fan, this would probably be my secret pinnacle. Another perfect pairing of band to material that feels both like it was an effortless, near-accidental recording— or perhaps the most they’ve ever cared about a track. Either way, it’s killer.
Rose Hill Drive - Shakin’ All Over
This entirely forgotten Colorado rock band that once made a juke for The Black Crowes seat in nu-roll does a delightfully classic take that exaggerates the mood just a little too far to fit comfortably on this on album.
Cake - Strangers In The Night
There’s a moment of cultural adolescence wherein all indie rock kids pick their perfect Cake cover song. Mine has always been a toneless trumpet-drenched rendition of “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” but oh boy is this a great second choice. I don’t know who in the booth decided to stick a couple silly sound-effects over the verses to make it wacky, but we’ll come back to that frustration shortly.
The Walkmen - There Goes My Baby
Christ is this a painful reminder of what a great gin-soaked rock nightmare we lost when this band disbanded. Like so many other tracks on this album, the marriage of song to musicianship is so perfect you can believe this was just a mic check that someone happened to catch. As the singer howls at a microphone that’s too far away, the rest of the band almost begrudgingly crosses the finish-line.
Rogue Wave - Everyday
Instead of reclaiming every note or emotional thrust, Rogue Wave makes their presence felt by doing one of the few covers that only aims to duplicate the greatness of the original. This is a great song to pause during and remind yourself this was a soundtrack for a game about zombies kidnapping women, and somehow it spawned this flawless thing.
The Dandy Warhols - All I Have To Do Is Dream
You can hear the moment that the Warhols decided to carve their own path, and it was after most of the instrumentation was in the can. Suddenly, malt shop cartoonish distancing turns a classic love song into something more appropriate for a Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas special.
Oranger - Mr. Sandman
This is it. The track. The song that makes the whole experiment worthwhile. This gender-swapped version of the original earworm elevates in all the right points and then decimates itself with a theremin solo.
The Flaming Lips - If I Only Had A Brain
This is the most complicated inclusion on the album, even for a lifelong Lips fan. Wayne talks his way through the famous Scarecrow pronouncement from The Wizard of Oz and while pitch shifting gives the sort of layering that might belong in an actual musical, the rest of the accompaniment is a random collection of literal car-crashes. In the abstract this seems like a different yet memorable twist on an all-time classic, but on the album (and especially within the game) this is the most disposable selection, which is a real shame, because a more traditional arrangement could’ve put this on par with the Cake track.
Clem Snide - Tears On My Pillow
Right up there with Kweller, this alt-country bummer really makes its mark.
Milton Mapes - Lonesome Town
Good God the reverb on this echoes into infinity. What a great take.
Phantom Planet - The Living Dead
The only non-cover on the album is a zombie nightmare from the band that gave us the opening credits for The O.C. and boy what a weird way to end.