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Feb 032015
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

OK, where do I begin? Cover Classics is the name of the game, yet few, perhaps, would accord Annie Lennox’s Medusa that status, at least not within the world of critics, who, by and large, were damning, back before it became the norm to decry the later efforts of Ms. Lennox. This isn’t an In Defense piece, so I am not required to address her current standing (to some relief), yet I want to. So what to say of an artist who was once so right, then suddenly so wrong? And is that view still applicable?
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Sep 212020
 

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!

Annie Lennox

It’s March of 1995, and by this point in time it has been firmly established that Annie Lennox doesn’t make bad albums. From her earliest days in The Tourists, through her incredible partnership with Dave Stewart in Eurythmics, to her glorious 1992 solo debut Diva, the quality level has been ridiculously high. Every album to the last has contained multiple soaringly wonderful evergreen pop classics, most of which are justifiably worshipped and treasured to this very day. But of course, if there’s one thing we know for certain about pop music, it’s that it’s a cruel, fickle beast, and critical favor can turn on a dime. And so, after a pretty consistent outpouring of acclaim, maybe it was inevitable that by 1995 the jar of journalistic goodwill was empty. Annie’s second solo album Medusa featured a perfectly sung and slickly produced selection of cover songs, and the time had finally come; the critics hated it.

While its brilliant, theatrical first single “No More I Love You’s” was a worldwide hit and the LP itself sold by the truckload, music journalists were pretty much across the board unimpressed (even here at Cover Me). One review in a big culture magazine at the time amusingly referred to the album as “a muff,” described Annie’s attempts at certain songs as “belly-flops,” and declared the overall sound to be “microwaved.”

So whose assessment of Medusa was “right,” the fans’ or the critics’? Well, truth be told, both. Put simply, it was an immaculately sung, pristinely produced, cleverly chosen selection of covers, with nary a rough edge to be seen. And while the overall sound could be characterized as chilly and/or mechanical in spots, it was still home to some pretty gloriously heartfelt and powerful song interpretations. Case in point: a broodingly beautiful take of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” as well as a grandly dramatic reading of Procol Harum’s epic “Whiter Shade of Pale.” And of course, the aforementioned “No More…” was a brilliant pop song by any standard.

But here’s the thing: Despite its renown, Medusa shouldn’t be looked at as the final word on Annie Lennox’s ability to reinvent and breathe new life into old songs. Over the years, she has proven herself to be an exceptionally gifted interpreter… and the majority of her finest cover work has come in the form of free-standing one-offs. With that in mind, let’s put Medusa to the side for a minute and turn a spotlight on the heart-clutchingly wonderful stuff around the edges, the live, the rare, and the underrated. Let’s venture into the depths of Annie’s truly exceptional cover canon, wherein lay a whole lotta treasures…
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Oct 122020
 

Off the Beaten Path looks at covers of songs from a less popular era in an artist’s career.

Blue Nile

It takes a certain amount of bravery to give yourself over to The Blue Nile. Listening to their songs of wistful rainswept regret and longing, outside the confines of home or a solitary space, suggests that you are 100% okay with crying in public. That you are fine with subjecting yourself to sounds that may cause you to seek temporary solitary shelter in a random doorway or bathroom stall, or slide down the wall of an elevator until you can pull yourself together. But as the bands devoted fanbase will tell you, it’s absolutely worth it.

The fact is, within the history of pop, there are very few bands capable of holding your hand as tightly and accompanying you down, down, down with as much beautiful empathy as The Blue Nile. I saw the band play at The Bottom Line in NYC in 1990 and have a vivid memory of crying as the band were performing their solemn ballad “Let’s Go Out Tonight.” It was silly and slightly embarrassing, but mostly, it was magical.
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May 032019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

joni mitchell covers

Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.

Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.

In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.

We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.

Mar 202015
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

I guess I felt a little bad about by my recent damning by faint praise of Annie Lennox, so I’ve been feeling the need to redress with something topnotch. And I have it, with Relations, the 2004 LP by Kathryn Williams, silky-voiced folkish songstrel. I guess she isn’t well known outside her fan-base in the U.K., which is a shame because she damn well should be.
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