Today, Nada Surf:
For those who were waiting for the “bullshit” cover, boy do I have a thing for you.
Now, there are, again, many, many more covers of “Enjoy the Silence” out there, but most have the benefit of either being live (and thus at a bad enough quality such that attempting to use them as an example feels unfair) or generally average (though shout out to No Use For a Name for doing a surprisingly solid punk cover), so I don’t feel comfortable picking them out to use as the “bullshit” example. Fortunately, Nada Surf (AKA “the band who wrote ‘Popular’ and basically nothing else“) did a cover of it, and whoo boy is it interesting.
Now, when I was growing up, my mother (indirectly) taught me that when it comes to a cover song, intent matters. See, back in 1994, Faith Hill recorded a cover of “Piece of My Heart,” a song that has generally been recorded as something of a plaintive love song by the majority of the people who’ve recorded the song over the years, including Erma Franklin, Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge. The Faith Hill version, in contrast, is a fairly upbeat country number that, to be blunt, takes a dump on the intent; the original intent is a sort of miserable “I love you even though you keep hurting me and I’ll keep dealing with it,” while Hill’s version is “Basically that, but I enjoy it,” and that’s… weird. To be fair, it’s worth noting that authorial intent isn’t always the hard-and-fast rule when it comes to covering a song; not only did Trent Reznor himself basically give “Hurt” to Johnny Cash when the latter changed the intent from “man with depression” to “man who has reached the end of his life,” but as we’ve touched on here, sometimes a song works better with a proper tonal change because the tone of the original is just wrong on some level. In general, however, you probably shouldn’t change a song about regretting being in love with a two-timer into an upbeat song, especially when the original works so well everyone who has covered it since has kept that tone more or less intact.
My point, and I do have one, is that I have no earthly idea who listened to “Enjoy the Silence,” and thought, “This, but surf rock,” but hooooooly shit is this thing an exercise in bad decisions. From the moment the upbeat guitar comes in, inside of the first thirty seconds, you’re clearly aware that you’re in for a disaster of a cover, and that feeling never lets up until the very end. It’s not even a bad song as such, either; it just fundamentally misunderstands the intent of the original song to such an amazing degree that it basically undoes any good its execution manages to pull off simply by being, well, stupid.
I mean, on the off chance a member of Nada Surf happens upon this article, I want it to be clear, it’s a fine song; I just have no idea what the fuck the person who suggested it was thinking when they said “Hey, let’s do a surf rock version of a New Wave song.” Jesus Christ.