Today, Ki Theory:
Now, for those who have spent this week wondering, “Well, okay, if you know so much about music, what makes for a good cover song?” while I’d like to just point to the above video and say “this,” I also know that isn’t especially helpful for making a point (especially if you hated Ghost in the Shell), so let’s break it down.
While I estabished what makes a cover not work at the beginning of the week, today I’d like to take a moment to discuss what makes a cover work, and why they tend to be hard for acts to pull off effectively. To put it simply, a good cover does three things:
1.) Presents a tone that understands and either emulates or improves upon the tone of the original,
2.) Presents a different musical take on the song, while still remaining somewhat true to the musical composition of the original, and
3.) Brings a unique voice to the song that doesn’t crap on what made the original a classic,
and it’s really hard to pull that off effectively. While it can be worth it to pull off that instantly memorable cover that either improves upon the original while still being a solid song in its own right (Orgy, “Blue Monday,”) or, failing that, that instantly memorable cover that’s at least different in an interesting and enjoyable way (Alien Ant Farm, “Smooth Criminal,”) nine times out of ten you just end up making Disturbed’s version of “The Sound of Silence,” or at a worst case, Nonpoint’s version of “In the Air Tonight,” I mean the whole point of the song is that it’s BUILDING TO THE DRUM SOLO HOW DOES SOMEBODY SCREW THAT UP?!?
The point is, take the song above and, removed from the movie it was attached to, consider it as a cover. It clearly understands the tone of the original and keeps it intact in its own composition, since the original tone of the song is quite good. It takes the original musical concept of the song, as well as the core structure, but heavily modernizes it, layering a melancholic electronic synth score over elements that clearly come from the original song in a way that makes for a dour verse and a swelling chorus, and this really gives the song a unique feel that still gets the original and respects it in tone and execution.
In other words, it works not in spite of it being a cover, but because it’s a cover, and because it understands both the voice of the original, and its own voice.