Random Song of the Day – 10/06/17

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?!?

Ahem.

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.

Random Song of the Day – 10/05/17

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.

Random Song of the Day – 10/04/17

Today, Lacuna Coil:

For those who are asking, “So is this the bullshit version?” well, no, but it’s not for a lack of trying.

Now, I get that this may not be the most popular opinion I’ve expressed, but let’s get into it: while I like Lacuna Coil quite a bit, I find that this cover just completely runs through me, due in no small part to the fact that it’s basically a less interesting version of Disturbed’s cover of “Shout.”

Yes, yes, I know, but hear me out.

Lacuna Coil, as a band, tends to work best when both Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia (the male and female vocalists, respectively) have something interesting to do with their unique vocals that serve to make the song a whole unit. That doesn’t mean they both need to be singing for a song to really work; “Unspoken,” from Comalies, for instance, is mostly focused on Cristina’s vocals and it’s awesome. Rather, the point I’m trying to make here is that the best Lacuna Coil songs understand what Cristina and Andrea (mostly Cristina, if I’m being honest) bring to the table, and exploit those traits to the maximum effect possible.

Their cover of “Enjoy the Silence” does… not do this.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t try, mind you, but outside of having Andrea layer vocals for the back half of the verses, the song is otherwise either an exact cover (the music proper is basically a metal version of the song with no deviation or modification) or mediocre (Andrea’s layered chorus vocals, where Cristina just drowns them out and makes them sound like shit; the weird annunciation of “wanted” in the chorus; the weird whispering between chorus and verse), and the end result is… just there, honestly.

Random Song of the Day – 10/03/17

Today, Trevor Something:

So, going back to yesterday’s discussion point, as I mentioned, most New Wave covers fall into one of two categories, but I didn’t really qualify what they meant. Now, “Bullshit” should be fairly apparent, but when I say “exact cover,” what I mean is, a musician heard a song, said “I wanna do that song,” and just… did that song. They neither added to, nor subtracted from, the original release… rather, they just… made the song over again, essentially.

Trevor Something is doing exactly that thing, above, and I want to be clear, I think it’s a very good cover of the song. It does exactly what the Depeche Mode song does, and Mr. Something does a great job of emulating that style and tone in his work. The problem, as I’m sure you’ve probably noticed if you listened to both songs, is that he does exactly what the Depeche Mode song does, and we already have that song. What reasonable person needs ten identical versions of the same song? I mean, yes, it sounds a little cleaner (owing to improvements in recording and synth technology), and yes, he adds in some neat drum effects and a nifty breakdown at the end, but otherwise, it’s the same song.

Don’t do this, aspiring musicians. Make a cover your own. Just… not in a bullshit way.

Random Song of the Day – 10/02/17

Today, Depeche Mode:

So, I watched American Psycho, and it got me thinking about 80’s music, for obvious reasons, but this, in turn, got me thinking about the 80’s aesthetic of music in general, and cover songs in specific (which means, yes, we’re going to be talking about this for the next few days or so).

I’m a big fan of New Wave music, which shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone who’s known me for any period of time, so when someone borrows that aesthetic while attempting to make something new, I’m generally all for it. However, while I love it when bands attempt to ape New Wave style, I tend to be… less charitable to bands to outright attempt to cover songs from the New Wave genre, because 90% of covers you hear from this concept fall into one of two distinct categories:

1.) Bullshit, or

2.) Exact covers,

and of those two categories, “Enjoy the Silence” far and away has entries in both categories.

I don’t have a lot to say about the original song proper; you’ve probably heard it, it’s very good, and if you don’t like it I don’t know what to tell you because I think it’s awesome. However, I want to use it to discuss the greater failings of cover songs as a thing that exist in music, so today I want to start with the original, so that we’re all on the same page going forward.

So, y’know. Enjoy “Enjoy the Silence,” I guess.

Random Song of the Day – 09/29/17

So, today we have Lil Yachty and Carly Rae Jepsen doing a Target ad, no, really:

So, a bit of backstory, in case this video gets taken down, which (given that Target apparently no longer hosts it themselves) is entirely possible: during the Grammys this year, Target rolled out an ad featuring Lil Yachty (AKA ‘the dude who made a Columbine reference during “Broccoli”) and Carly Rae Jepsen (AKA the woman who did “Call Me Maybe” and basically nothing else), and the internet basically alternated between thinking it was just the best thing and shitting all over it. If you missed it at the time, chances are good it probably passed you by entirely, as Target themselves seem to have just decided to pretend it didn’t happen, and the world more or less seems to have agreed that this is for the best.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with the past three days of song posts, well, consider that this came out in February, and now, in August/September, we’ve suddenly got three new songs featuring music from the same general time period as this release, one of which is basically this song, more or less.

I’m not saying this is what happened, but it’s entirely possible that this ad kickstarted something in the minds of a lot of music creators and producers, as they realized, “oh, right, we could do this,” and suddenly, 90’s nostalgia sampling kicked in to an extreme degree in pop music. I mean, it did premier during the Grammys, a show that probably attracts the eyes of more than a few industry insiders, and you can imagine that there were probably more than a few who saw this and stroked their (possibly imaginary) beards at the thought of cashing in on 90’s nostalgia with modern musicians. I mean, granted, the best sampling jobs out there generally show up in rap, and are mostly sampled from songs that are way down the popularity totem pole, but Diddy ruined that shit in the 90’s too (looking at you, “Come With Me”) so what the hell, why not?

I mean, I did say it was a stupid idea, but it’s not the most outlandish possibility, right?

Random Song of the Day – 09/28/17

Continuing on from yesterday, today we have Fergie:

First off, hi again Nikki. Jeez, no wonder Nikki hasn’t released an album since 2014; this is something like her ninth appearance in a song in 2017 alone. I mean, considering “Anaconda,” this is probably for the best, as the lyrics at least have some chance of improving, and at the worst case you just end up with “Rake it Up,” which is only as bad, not worse, so, you do you I guess.

More importantly, though, here we are with Fergie, and what is perhaps the most egregious example of the “the nineties were awesome guys” music sampling that’s been happening all of a sudden. While Katy Perry borrowed the aesthetic of 90’s music, and Taylor Swift sampled a beat and rebuilt it, Fergie straight-up just builds this song around “It Takes Two,” (which came out in 88 but still) and then goes a step beyond THAT and samples the song that “It Takes Two” sampled, “Think (About It)” from Lyn Collins, during its bridge, just to be extra cheeky.

Now, to be clear, I don’t really have much of an opinion on the song itself, save that the backing beat sounds nice, but it sounded nice in the song(s) it came from as well. Honestly, if you remove the samples and Nikki’s section, all you’re left with is a song that doesn’t seem to be about very much, unless you consider “Fergie brags about how she imbibes a lot of beverages, is rich and wouldn’t sleep with you,” to be about, which… doesn’t seem like it’s worth writing a song about when Twitter exists, but to each their own. Rather, I just find it interesting that this is the third song to borrow heavily from 90’s aural aesthetics in two months, especially when it’s unlikely the three planned this in any meaningful way (especially since Swift and Perry have heat, still).

Why is this happening, though? Well, I have a (stupid) theory about that, which we’ll get into tomorrow.

Spoilers: it’s really stupid.