Friday, October 10, 2008

Too much coverage?

The times are tough now, just getting tougher

This world is rough, it's just getting rougher

Cover me; come on, baby, cover me.

- Bruce Springsteen

Scenario One: You're a musician whose relevance is fading.

Scenario Two: You're a musician who's run out of ideas.

Scenario Three: You're a musician who admires the influential work of other musicians so much that you want to pay tribute to them.

Scenario Four: You're a musician so skilled at "reinterpreting" others' work that your fans are just clamoring for you to remake some of the classics.

Whatever the scenario, WB has noticed a definite trend. Boomer icon James ("Fire and Rain") Taylor has just released a new CD simply titled Covers — a compilation of varied old classics by other artists (and the world was just crying out for another version of "Wichita Lineman," right, JT?) who, the velvet-voiced crooner claims, had huge influence on his own musical style.

Earlier this year, Ministry — for crying out loud, Ministry! — released Cover Up, a disconnected smattering of reinvented classics going all the back to T. Rex and Golden Earring (and the world was just begging for another version of "Radar Love," right, guys?) that may or may not have had anything to do with Ministry's electro-industrial speed metal sound.

A year ago it was Queensr├┐che with Take Cover, a setlist of covers so faithful to the original versions that there's virtually no difference between QR's take on Black Sabbath's "Neon Knights" and the original song belted by Ronnie James Dio over Tony Iommi's chugging detuned guitar. The saving grace is that this compilation is wildly eclectic, including tributes to The Police, Peter Gabriel, and even The O'Jays ("For the Love of Money.")

A year before those aging art-metalheads took cover, Def Leppard reinflicted its sticky-sweet self on the world with Yeah!, a collection of hits from the wayback machine that included T. Rex (again), The Faces, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, and even Badfinger ("No Matter What"). This one managed to be faithful to the originals while also tweaking them just enough around the edges to make them new, but it ultimately seems to have existed only to re-acquaint listeners with this semi-forgotten band and create a buyership for 2008's Songs from the Sparkle Lounge.

Before the Leppard boys went mining in the landfill of 1960s hits, punk's Misfits did them one better by looking to the decade when rock began for their 2003 Project 1950. With nicely distorted fuzz guitars and tempos tripled, The Misfits bent cruisin' classics like "Donna," "Runaway," and even Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire" into ominous doom-punk echoes of the originals. And to keep up the band's traditional connection with goblins and spooky things, they threw in a cover of "The Monster Mash," too.

The king of covers collections is 1998's Garage Inc. by Metallica, a two-disc collection of homages to everything from acoustic Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Tuesday's Gone") to classic Queen ("Stone Cold Crazy") to, ironically enough, The Misfits ("Last Caress"). Reintroducing Thin Lizzy's forgotten "Whiskey in the Jar" (itself a modern reinterpretation of a traditional drinking song) to a new generation of rapscallions and rogues, but also reinflicting Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" on the children of millions of 1970s high schoolers who'd made that their class song, MetCo mostly phoned this one in — and of course, made millions on it.

Covers, covers everywhere... but one place they never needed to appear was in the comprehensive and exhaustive collection of "Louie Louie" covers now available on Usenet. 75+ versions of this three-chord musical version of a Garbage Pail Kid have been assembled — many admittedly forgeries that were never performed by the artists named on the track tags — for someone to download and allegedly enjoy. Given this, we retract all of the jabs above; we'd listen to "Wichita Lineman" and "Radar Love" and even "Turn the Page" for a hundred years if it meant never hearing "Louie Louie" again.

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