Friday, October 22, 2004

Cover versions: the new originality?

I love a good cover version of a song...

Movies? Pah! Remakes rarely capture any kind of nuance and often end up being bland, boring or plain insulting to sentiments of the original. Can I just say The Day of the Jackal of 1973 with the cooly suave and ultra 'fit' Edward Fox, versus The Jackal of 1997 with an utterly unconvincing Bruce Willis...? What a waste of celluloid.

A good cover of song though, can make you hear the original in a different light - as well as adding another track to your catalogue of 'good songs'.

Dramas for both television and the cinema can be especially good at tracing quirky covers, or at least versions that stir the emotions differently to the original. Witness the phenomenal response to Mad World by Gary Jules (from the seriously wonderful film Donnie Darko). The original, from the album The Hurting, was - like the primal therapy that inspired it - painful, raw and quite brutish: lyrics almost spat out. The cover version crept up on the film's audience: I suspect few could identify what the track was until some way into it. The words were familiar - to those of us at a certain age - but the tone of the piece was changed utterly by this stripped down version. Just a piano and the ever-haunting sound of a cello, plus a vocal style that was far removed from the brittle anguish of the original. This version was unbearably moving; sad in a way that could not quite be defined - rather like the images that accompanied its occurrence in the film.

Slowing down a track can be a very effective way to change its mood and its impact: The almost baroque lushness and intensity of The Flaming Lips cover of Kylie's hip-swivelling poptastique song I Just Can't Get You Out Of My Head made its listeners wonder how anyone could hear Kylie's version again without feeling a twinge of regret at its fluffiness. And I still recall with astonishment how I felt when Travis covered Baby, One More Time at Glastonbury. How did they get from schoolgirl pouting to this mournful pean about losing love? I know that the Britney version was itself a cover (by ? anyone sure on this?) - much the same way as Natalie Imbruglia came to fame on an obscure non-english song (from Norway?) - but when I heard Travis covering it I found myself singing along and thinking "why does this seem to be in my head? ... oh my god!? A Britney cover?!"

So amidst the random quotes and ramblings on this blog, I am adding a category of informing the world about excellent cover versions. You know you want it. Look at how much the Covers Project can tell you!

1 comment:

Neil said...

There's a cover going through my head, it's like silicon chip is switched to overload. Okay the song's the Boomtown Rats "I don't like Mondays" and the cover is by Tori Amos. Fantastic. Where's Johnny Pyjamas?