In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
A few weeks ago, the music world and 20,000 lucky fans in Madison Square Garden said a bittersweet goodbye to LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy is probably better known for who has taken on his music than for covers he’s done, with everyone from Franz Ferdinand to the Muppets reimagining LCD songs. However, he’s recorded some excellent covers as well (including this week’s take on Franz’s “Live Alone” for Record Store Day). At first, it’s hard to imagine how covers could live up to LCD’s best original moments: the songs that capture the complexities of lost youth, fading love, or hipster culture with a few deft electronic tweaks. But Murphy successfully brings his signature sound to a surprising number of genres, draping sharp, lush electronics over a diverse assortment of other musicians’ work. Here’s a look at five of his best studio covers, along with a bonus live track.
Murphy made his first foray into covers with Siouxsie and the Banshees‘ “Slowdive,” released as a B-side to the single “Disco Infiltrator.” Murphy stays relatively true to the original, though his arrangement is more low-key than Siouxsie’s post-punk. The biggest change arises when he replaces the original confident vocals with more hesitant ones that suit the chillier track he crafts.
MP3: LCD Soundsystem – Slowdive (Siouxsie and the Banshees cover)
Murphy goes the opposite direction with Joy Division‘s “No Love Lost.” He brightens up the gloom of the 1978 track with a speedier, more aggressive arrangement. LCD’s cover is less calculated than the original, particularly when Murphy compresses the track into a sharp two minutes for live performances, barking out the final lines like he’s at a party more fun than any Joy Division ever attended.
MP3: LCD Soundsystem – No Love Lost (Joy Division cover)
Murphy jumps ahead a few decades with a cover of Detroit house/techno producer Carl Craig’s “Throw” (originally released under Craig’s Paperclip People moniker). The original and the cover both sprawl through several minutes of smooth instrumentals, but Murphy makes drums the focal point of his arrangement. He cuts in during the second half of the track with sparse vocals in an impressive falsetto. “Throw” was a B-side on LCD’s latest album, This Is Happening, and proved a seamless addition to gigs during the album’s tour.
MP3: LCD Soundsystem – Throw (Paperclip People cover)
Two of Murphy’s most famous covers made it into LCD’s three-hour farewell set; the original studio versions are featured here. One was Alan Vega’s “Bye Bye Bayou,” originally recorded for Record Store Day in 2009. The cover swaps Vega’s sparse arrangement and growling vocals for a lush disco vibe, complemented with snapping backbeats and smooth, echoing vocals. The other was Harry Nilsson’s‘s “Jump into the Fire,” the “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” B-side that became a longtime standby at LCD shows. It’s a straightforward, energetic track, largely without the dance touches that Murphy brings to most of his covers, but Nilsson’s repetitive, increasingly adamant vocals on the original explain why it attracted Murphy, mirroring his own style.
MP3: LCD Soundsystem – Bye Bye Bayou (Alan Vega cover)
MP3: LCD Soundsystem – Jump Into the Fire (Harry Nilsson cover)
BONUS: Don’t miss the band’s take on Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” The track cropped up several times during the This Is Happening tour, often meshed with “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.” The pairing is a fitting, clever tribute to the city, juxtaposing “Empire’s” exuberant praise with the delicate nostalgia of “New York.” Murphy splices his cover, a brief, halting duet with keyboardist Nancy Whang, into “New York” just before the final, swooning instrumental.
LCD Soundsystem– Empire State of Mind (Jay-z and Alicia Keys cover)