Perhaps the best thing a band can do when covering a song is to interpret the track in their own unique way and truly leave their stamp on it; after all, very few covers that play it safe are particularly interesting. Most of the covers on this week’s list radically rework their original counterparts, or at least give a new general perspective, which I think should be the whole point of re-doing a song in the first place. Also, I’d like to give a mention to the Deftones’ spectacular cover of the Cars classic Drive, which I would’ve included, but didn’t want to use a band two weeks in a row.
….though I guess this is really the same thing more or less, isn’t it?
Anyhow! Enough rambling, let’s get on with the list.
Mindless Self Indulgence – Bring the Pain
Making a Method Man track sound tame is not the easiest thing to do, but Mindless Self Indulgence pull it off with abundant style here. This cover is all over the place, with the only thing bearing resemblance to the original being the lyrics – even the flow is different, which James Euringer spits furiously, and while he may not be as smooth as Clifford Smith, he makes up for it with sheer energy. Euringer’s trademark random falsettos along with that frantic beat really make this feel like an MSI song.
Bjork – It’s Oh So Quiet
Easily the most faithful rendition here, the reason this song is here is simply because Bjork is so startlingly good at capturing the jazzy, vocal style of Betty Hutton’s Blow a Fuse, particularly in how it descends into chaos and back again, and making it sound like her own. It’s Oh So Quiet really should stick out like a sore thumb on Post, but Bjork injects so much of her personality into this that it manages to blend in with the throbbing trip-hop of her sophomore album quite well.
Tricky – Black Steel
While the Public Enemy original is an outstanding song in its own right, Tricky gets massive points for throwing so many unlikely elements together and still making it all work. The original beat is completely gone in favor of a heavy, distorted guitar, clanging percussion, and Martina Topley-Bird’s sweet vocals singing harsh lines like “picture me giving a damn, I said never” with a vocal pattern not terribly far removed from Chuck D’s. All the anger of the original is still in tact, but with a bit more of a mystique to it; a hallmark of Tricky’s great debut (and this song’s parent album), Maxinquaye.
FM Belfast – Lotus
Lotus is one of those covers that strips just about everything from a song and rebuilds it from the ground up. On the first listen, it might take a while to recognize Zach De La Rocha’s lyrics for Killing in the Name, particularly given the rather indifferent vocals and trippy, sexy beat, but that’s exactly what this head-bobbing track is tackling. It’s a very clever take on the raging (augh, pun) original.
Chris Cornell – Billie Jean
Speaking of rebuilding a song from the ground up, this is precisely what Chris Cornell does with Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. Doing away with the dance beat entirely and giving it a bare, singer-songwriter approach, Cornell’s vocals and acoustic guitar are on the verge of sounding totally off throughout the verse before the band kicks in for the chorus. The frustration in the lyrics that were masked by the original’s fun sound are brought directly to the forefront on this version, with Cornell milking it for all its worth, and to an unexpectedly great effect.
The Helio Sequence – Satellite
There are two highly unlikely accomplishments this cover pulls off – firstly, while it appears on a compilation of nearly all unknown bands covering a single artist, it’s actually really good (these kinds of compilations rarely yield anything all that great). Secondly, and more importantly, it manages to make an Elliott Smith song sound even MORE depressing. Brandon Summers’ voice matches Smith’s surprisingly well, and while really all that is added are a few synthesizers, the resulting atmosphere and depth is phenomenal. None of the emotion from the original is lost; in fact, it actually feels sharpened here. One of those rare instances where the cover just might be better than the original.
Dynamite Hack – Boyz-n-the-Hood
Mid 90s one hit wonder Dynamite Hack struck gold with this almost folksy reworking of Eazy-E’s hip hop classic. The mellow music backing softly delivered lines like “I went in the house to get the clip, with my Mac 10 on the side of my hip” sounds charming well after the initial humor passes, and the nuances in the music suggest that this is more a goofy tribute than an all-out parody. Even better is the video, which shows the gritty details of the suburbs: dinner parties, strolling through parks, playing golf, and waving hello to police officers.
Anal Cunt – 311 Sucks
I’ve been a 311 fan since they burst onto the scene back in 1995, so make no mistake – you don’t need to be a detractor of the band to enjoy this mocking reworking of Down (though I imagine it couldn’t hurt). While admittedly derisive, it’s just so funny to hear Seth Putnam replace S.A. Martinez’s raps with complete gibberish, only to explode at the end with that “YOU FUCKIN’ SUCK!!” As with the rest of Anal Cunt’s catalogue, this is only to be listened to with tongue firmly in cheek. Now that I think of it, I could’ve made an entirely separate list of amusing covers and parodies… oh well, too late now.
Johnny Cash – In My Life
On the same album featuring his infamous (and deservedly loved) cover of Hurt is this intensely personal take on a classic song of retrospection. Hearing something written by a 25 year old John Lennon being reinterpreted by a 70 year old Johnny Cash is already guaranteed to be astounding, but given the song’s subject matter (and the fact that Cash died a scant few years after recording this), this one can’t help but be an overwhelming listen. The fact that this was slammed by music critics upon the album’s release utterly baffles me.
Fever Ray – Mercy Street
Peter Gabriel has long been renowned for his originality and creativity, so when someone comes along and makes what is probably his darkest, creepiest song sound even more dark and creepy, a lot of credit is due. Karin Dreijer Andersson’s typically moody synths, vocal treatments, and oddball percussion replace the eerie sparsity of the original with a full, downright sinister sound, but without sacrificing any of the nuance or drowning out the beautiful melodies. I wouldn’t be surprised if this popped up on numerous ‘Best Songs’ lists at the end of the year.