Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
Long after the image of Britney Spears as a spy disguised as the world’s randiest stewardess – excuse me: flight attendant – has faded from millennial memories, the song “Toxic” will remain just as powerful as it was on first release. Still the sole Grammy winner of Britney’s career (Best Dance Recording of 2004), “Toxic” found music critics in the unusual position of falling all over themselves praising one of her songs. Some dealt with that conundrum by saying it could have been just as irresistible in another singer’s hands. In fact, it very nearly was – it was offered to Kylie Minogue first, but she turned it down. Still, the fact is, Britney delivered the goods here in every respect, and it’s little wonder that she’s since said it’s her favorite of her songs.
The song’s gotten more than its fair share of attention in Coverland, with artists out to praise and to bury. As you can imagine, the covers that praise have done better, rising to the top like cream, but only a very small percent of that cream can be at the very top. Herewith that cream.
The Juliet Turner cover is good.
The Chapin Sisters cover is better.
And the Nickel Creek cover is best.
Northern Ireland’s Juliet Turner turns “Toxic” down from fiery flames to smoldering embers, but just because she’s making it cooler doesn’t mean she doesn’t sound hot herself. She just puts forth a different kind of heat, banked behind a tough interior, still able to burn even as it draws you closer.
It’s an acoustic cover, kind of old-timey, gentler than Turner’s cover and without the same edge. What makes the Chapin Sisters’ version of “Toxic” better? Those three-part harmonies. The way the ethereal voices of Abigail and Lily Chapin (daughters of Tom, nieces of Harry) and their half-sister Jessica Craven (daughter of Wes) intertwine brings to mind the image of fairies, able to enchant with their words and thus mysterious as much as lovely.
“Toxic” was a staple at Nickel Creek’s live show for years. There were a lot of reasons for this. One, it gave mandolinist Chris Thile the chance to ham it up, drawing laughter with his exaggerated dance movies, polishing the skills that would one day make him the logical successor to Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion. Two, and way more important, “this song kicks ass,” as Thile told at least one audience. Sara Watkins’ note-perfect recreation of the song’s hook pulls the song firmly into the Nickel Creek camp, and the band have fun with it while taking it seriously. No official recording or video has been released, but YouTube is littered with partial and complete fan videos; this one features fairly steady camera work and a quality light show.
The original “Toxic” can be found on Amazon.