Covers. The (sometimes less) fine art of deconstructing a song, adding fresh ingredients, stirring it up firmly and putting it back together. With the result hopefully being something new that can be enjoyed by both the existing and a new generation.
I’ll admit it, I’m a huge fan of the genre. I confess being guilty of spending countless hours searching for interesting, obscure, deranged and occasionally spot on renditions of classic and less classic songs. Why? Because it is the domain in which mediocre songs finally get the chance to shine. To become the gem they were always meant to be. The music area in which the layers of a song get peeled off in order to reveal the pearl that resides in there. In which as well songs and artists that get mocked because they are ‘too commercial’ get the recognition they deserve. Occasionally it goes horribly wrong though. As will be evidenced at the end of the article.
Without further ado, a (first) list of covers that I hold quite dearly.
LOW – ‘Stay’ (original: Rihanna) – 2013
Allow me to curse in church: I’m not the biggest Rihanna fan. Blame it on (most likely) my age, friends or simply a plain lack in taste but RiRi doesn’t always do it for me. Most of the time actually. Although I do admit that she issues from time to time a pretty solid pop song. Like ‘Stay‘. When slowcore heroes Low decided to record a studio version of it after they initially performed it live, it delivered the definitive proof of the genius of this simple yet painstakingly beautiful song.
RYAN ADAMS – ‘Wildest Dreams’ (original: Taylor Swift) – 2015
Note: whenever I see a chance to slip in Ryan Adams into one of my articles, I will. He is my number one hero, the Neil Young of my generation (next to Neil Young himself), the Monica Bellucci between the Bond divas and the Double Stuf Oreo cookie with my coffee. I promise to serve myself of every possible excuse to integrate the man and his work into my posts. Be warned.
When Adams announced his plan to record a whole cover album of Taylor Swift‘s ‘1989‘ hit album reactions varied from disbelief over disgust to enthusiasm. I clearly belong to the last group. I’ve never been a connaisseur of Swift‘s work and it’s actually through Adams that I started to listen to her work more closely. And it’s pretty undeniable that she’s a genuine pop star. One who perfectly masters the art of crafting spot on pop songs. Putting those in the hands of Adams showed that in some weird way both artists are not that far apart from one another. They both tell stories of heartbreak and pain, they just package them differently. Which in the case of Adams is in a wrapper of melancholia.
‘Wildest Dreams‘ is one of my favorite cuts on the album.
LO FANG – The One That I Want (original: John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John) – 2014
Oh come on, we ALL love ‘Grease‘. Those who claim otherwise are lying. Blatantly. One of my closer friends is a proud member of the Hells Angels and confirms that every week his favorite moment is when he gets home after a night out with the boys. Moment at which he winds down by putting on the movie and singing – and dancing – along with the songs we have all learned to love. He claims it’s the leather jackets btw. Not sure if that is true.
Lo-Fang (moniker for indie rocker Matthew Jordan Hemerlein) and his cover of ‘The One That I Want‘ got selected by Chanel for one of its N° 5 ads, straight away providing a huge exposure for this promising artist. The cover is emotional, dramatic and perhaps too much, something that is even more underlined by the ad itself. But it so works and is a fine example of how a song can get radically transformed through its cover. And I love it for that.
CICCONE YOUTH – Into the Groovey (original: Madonna) – 1989
Talking about transformation: what if legendary rock group Sonic Youth, known for it’s innovation and wild & trashy guitars takes on one of the biggest hits of the Queen of Pop? Or actually, when they develop the idea to record a complete Madonna tribute album under the moniker Ciccone Youth? Wonderful band name btw.
The result is ‘The Whitey album‘, one of the most intriguing records of the 80ies. A glorious mess of an album filled with beatboxing, drum machines, rapping, covers, noise, handclapping, dub, half-assed attempts to a song and a whole lot of irony. The rendition of Madge’s ‘Into the Groove‘ is insanely off-to-hook and probably my favorite cover of all time.
MEUTE – ‘Rej’ (original: Âme) – 2016
I’m finishing off this list with something quite different. The idea of a marching band taking on a house classic might sound far fetched at first but that’s exáctly what Meute is doing.
‘Rej‘ is a timeless classic of german and (by now) legendary dj & producer duo Âme. I can’t even start to explain how often I already danced to this song. Meute on the other hand is a german techno marching band. A collectif of drummers and horn players who fulfill their ambition to be djs through their instruments.
The spin that is given here to the track is absolutely mindblowing. To take something so very much born electronic and reconstruct it through acoustic instruments whilst keeping the track’s energy is a real tour de force and underlines even more the quality of the song. Listen to it and try to sit still. You will fail.
The cover that makes you feel like the end of the world is near
I do not know where to start on this one. Is it the out-of-tune singer who is not quite in sync with his band? Is it the band’s total lack of charisma? The non-existing audience? The toy synth that sounds like a flute? And all of that whilst covering thé song that I probably hate the most in modern music history. And of which I somehow mysteriously remember that a famous high-jumper who’s name I have forgotten used it as his warm-up song prior to actually jumping. Watch and be in awe.
RYAN ADAMS – ‘Wasted Years’ (original by Iron Maiden)
You were warned.