After far too long a hiatus, here’s a new mix tape, this time exploring some of my favourite cover versions. To be clear, none of these tracks are what i’d call ‘remixes’, which i think of as a separate, quite different discipline; these are good ol’-fashioned covers of some great original songs.
t.A.T.u.’s version of The Smiths‘ “How Soon Is Now?” stands out on their first album, 200Km/h in the Wrong Lane, partly because it’s the only cover version, but more because of how utterly good it is. While i always was a fan of The Smiths, i’d actually far prefer to listen to t.A.T.u.’s rendition of it, their vocals somewhat less restrained than Morrissey’s. “Here’s Where The Story Ends” has been covered by many artists, and i’ve included the most recent, by Tin Tin Out featuring Shelley Nelson. Their version of the song is rather passionless, but this remix of it (the “Canny Remix”) saves the day, a dance version that shows off Nelson’s superb voice admirably. An old classic, “Blue Moon”, is given a fantastic big band treatment by Cybill Shepherd, taken from the soundtrack to the 80s TV series, Moonlighting. Shepherd’s voice is simply astounding, in what is my favourite version of this timeless song. Tori Amos makes several appearances in this mix, simply because she takes a more imaginative approach to her covers than any artist i’ve come across, always presenting the song in a new light, teasing out new connotations from the original. First up is her utterly deconstructed version of 10cc‘s epic ballad, “I’m Not In Love”, taken from her album of covers, Strange Little Girls. All sentimentality has been stripped, the music standing bare and heavy, with a palpable sense of menace; it’s beautiful and gently horrifying all at the same time. i can’t be alone in adoring This Mortal Coil‘s take on Tim Buckley‘s “Song to the Siren”, sung by the truly siren-esque Elizabeth Fraser. The utterly minimal accompaniment allows Fraser’s vocals to soar and meander at whim; it’s an exquisite performance. The new Parenthetical Girls album, Entanglements (about which a post will be following as and when) is filled with fun and frolics, of which their cover of “The Windmills of your Mind” is a typical example. It’s so-called “chamber pop” at its finest, witty, intelligent, comic and infectious. The luxuriant vocalist with AM and the UV, Anne Marie Almedal has included—incongruously—a cover of Strawberry Switchblade‘s “Since Yesterday” on her album The Siren and the Sage. The album is heavily at the easy listening end of the spectrum, and while her version turns it into a bit of a late-night lighter-waver, i just love the fact that someone has revisited one of my favourite songs from my teenage years. Back to Tori Amos, for her devastating take on Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; Nirvana’s packs a punch, whereas Tori seems to find a way to just the same by different means; i feel winded every time i hear her version, which features some gorgeous piano playing.
A couple of ABBA covers next. First, irr. app. (ext.)‘s stirring, surreal re-imagined version of “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, which places the uncomfortable subject matter into a distorted, fragmented but alluring soundscape. Returning to the 80s, Blancmange occasionally impressed me, and this cover of “The Day Before You Came” is about as 80s as it gets, synths in all directions; it absolutely captures Blancmange’s light, frothy sound, as well as being a convincing version. “Gloomy Sunday” has perhaps been recorded by more artists than any other song (i’m guessing), since its first appearance in the 30s. i love Lydia Lunch anyway, but her version of the song is about as gloomy as it gets; to give it yet more gloom, i took it from the soundtrack album of Blair Witch Project, which precedes the song which a nice, ghoulish bit of monologue. The music of Julee Cruise is about as dreamy as pop can get, and her “Mysteries of Love” (from the movie Blue Velvet) is given a beautiful treatment by Antony and the Johnsons, with sparse orchestration, allowing Antony to do his wibbly-wobbly thing all over this delicious little number. One of Antony’s recent collaborators, Björk, has a voice that i feel lends itself very well to soft, intimate songs like the classic “I Remember You”. It was included on the second of her Venus as a Boy CD singles (perhaps recorded at the same time as “Like Someone In Love”, on Debut), and it’s highly emotive; Björk, as ever, clearly feels every word she sings. Xerxes spends most of his time, sadly, creating mediocre ambient electronica, but his re-working of Tori Amos’ a capella “Me and a Gun” (which i suppose technically is a remix, but comes across more like a cover version) is sublimely effective; the harmonies he creates sound entirely as though they were always implied in Tori’s original vocals. Sticking with Tori one more time, perhaps the most incredible of her covers on Strange Little Girls, taking on Slayer‘s well-known “Raining Blood”. It’s almost unrecognisable from the original, and yet somehow gets into the very heart of this dark song; almost like a slow-motion danse macabre, Tori clearly intoxicated on the rich lyrics; it’s an especially emotive moment as she sings the final words and her voice literally breaks. The penultimate cover comes from Slovenia’s greatest industrialists, Laibach, from their pensive, satirical album Volk. Laibach frequently explore existing songs, usually seeking to subvert their texts for politically-motivated ends, as here, where they twist “The Star Spangled Banner” into something rather different. To finish, Frankie Goes To Hollywood‘s superb rock-out version of Springsteen’s “Born To Run”; it shows Frankie at their absolute best, in total command of passionate rock music. In total, 79 minutes of new visions of old magic.
Here’s the tracklisting in full:
• t.A.T.u. – How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths)
• Tin Tin Out, featuring Shelley Nelson – Here’s Where The Story Ends (The Sundays)
• Cybill Shepherd – Blue Moon (Rodgers and Hart)
• Tori Amos – I’m Not In Love (10CC)
• This Mortal Coil – Song to the Siren (Tim Buckley)
• Parenthetical Girls – Windmills of your Mind (Bergmans and Legrand)
• Anne Marie Almedal – Since Yesterday (Strawberry Switchblade)
• Tori Amos – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
• irr. app. (ext.) – Knowing Me, Knowing You (ABBA)
• Blancmange – The Day Before You Came (ABBA)
• Lydia Lunch – Gloomy Sunday (Rezső Seress)
• Antony and the Johnsons – Mysteries of Love (Julee Cruise)
• Björk – I Remember You (Schertzinger and Mercer)
• Xerxes – Me and a Gun (Tori Amos)
• Tori Amos – Raining Blood (Slayer)
• Laibach – America (Stafford Smith and Key)
• Frankie Goes To Hollwood – Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen)