Adam Mason

Adam Mason lives in Warwickshire, England, with his partner and two small daughters. He's written stuff for PopMatters and Ad's Vinyl Adventures (his blog), and once wrote a PhD thesis. He edits and proofreads stuff (for money) and enjoys films, collecting vinyl, the occasional play by local-boy William Shakespeare, and beer. He also has an autobiographical novel in the works called 'A Life as a Stranger', named after an Ultravox lyric from 1983, and featuring Ultravox quite a bit. It's gonna be big.

Aug 142020
 

tanya donellyjenn champion the blue albumTanya Donelly has a long history, as both singer-songwriter of Belly and solo artist, of interweaving emotionally charged originals with covers similarly forged from despair, heartbreak, and loneliness. The results have frequently been sublime, as when she complemented “Gepetto” with a heartfelt version of Gram Parsons’ “Hot Burrito #1” on the Gepetto EP of 1992, or when she accompanied “New England” and “Days of Grace” with an equally fervent rendition of the Beatles’ “Long, Long, Long” on 2006’s This Hungry Life. The covers have usually taken the backseat as B-sides and deep cuts, or as contributions to tribute albums to the likes of The Smiths or Elliott Smith. Yet now, in this topsy-turvy year of 2020, they are the main event; Donelly has not only released a series of quarantine covers for charity (featuring Labi Siffre’s “Bless the Telephone,” and the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”), but has also polished off a covers album in collaboration with the Parkington Sisters, Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters.

It’s Donelly’s first all-covers album, therefore, that stands before us, but it’s clearly no ordinary covers album. The Belly, Breeders, and Throwing Muses star initiated it out of a desire to do something different with the format in the wake of Juliana Hatfield’s recent successes with Sings Olivia Newton-John (2018), and Sings The Police (2019). She might well have followed in the steps of her sometime collaborator and fellow doyen of New England alt-rock by making, effectively, a tribute album to one of her musical heroes: Kate Bush, say, or Echo and the Bunnymen. But instead, Donelly has attempted to bring a sense of unity to nine reinterpretations of songs that have been hugely meaningful to her, by way of the moody string arrangements and somber vocal harmonies that the classically trained, Massachusetts-based Parkington Sisters are known for.
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Jul 212020
 

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.

Cruel Summer covers

Since Bananarama first released “Cruel Summer” in June 1983, the sunny season has become substantially crueller, certainly if the raft of recent covers of the song are considered. The post-punk British girl group originated a song to stand alongside such classics as “Sealed with a Kiss” and “The Boys of Summer” when they sang of loneliness, separation, and heartache in relation to the vacation period, but they did so in a way that incorporated a strong element of, well, fun. Good, bouncy, innocent fun. Current artists seem unable to approach it in quite the same manner.

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Jun 302020
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

John Bonham

If Led Zeppelin’s 1971 track “When the Levee Breaks” is widely considered an original, it’s because the sound that Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham make on that record bears very little relation to its source material: a jauntily played acoustic blues number from 1929. It emanates instead from deep in the heart of the mightiest of English rock bands. It is huge, rumbling, and apocalyptic. And it is totally at one with the song’s all-too-familiar theme of an individual at the mercy of forces way beyond his control.
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Apr 162020
 

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.

We join a girl at a desperate point in her relationship with her ex(?)-boyfriend: “Set me free, why don’t cha babe? / Get out my life, why don’t cha babe?” She’s had enough and she’s pulling no punches on the subject of staying apart: “You don’t care a thing about me / You’re just usin’ me.” She’s doubtful, too, as to whether the two of them should have any contact at all: “How can we still be friends / When seein’ you only breaks my heart again? / And there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it.”

As signature tunes go, there aren’t many that deliver such a direct, stark, convincing demand for personal liberation as the Supremes’ huge 1966 hit, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland had originated a string of girl-group masterworks for Motown, including “Locking Up My Heart” (The Marvelettes), “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave” (Martha and the Vandellas), and “Where Did Our Love Go” (The Supremes), by the time they came to write this one. With it, they unveiled a striking sense of realism. Adhering to a formulaic first-person narrative of a female protagonist having to deal with a no-good liar/cheat, they made a point of injecting the song with colloquial language and true-to-life expression, including a brief spoken-word section during the bridge. Lamont Dozier himself explained that they wanted to “make it believable, add some everyday talk, like the girl was really going through this predicament.”

Lead-singer Diana Ross sells the song with her typically cool and sassy vocal, which suggests a girl taking back control of her life as she faces up to the fact that her ex is, basically, a selfish asshole. She’s helped by the especially potent backing vocals of Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard (the latter of whom has a line all to herself!), as well as the reliably tight musicianship of the Funk Brothers, centering on Eddie Willis’ arresting Morse-code-style guitar part. She’s helped, also, by it being a simply massive tune that damns the torpedoes and goes full speed ahead. Little wonder that it was the Supremes’ eighth #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
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Mar 192020
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

violator

You Want it Darker, the title of Leonard Cohen’s farewell album of 2016, might also have made an appropriate moniker for Depeche Mode’s 1990 release, Violator. The British synthpop group had grown steadily in popularity since signing to the independent Mute label in 1980, even to the point of selling out the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena (over 90,000 seats) in 1988. Yet it was when they took a more direct approach to the subjects of guilt, sin, sexual obsession, and inner torment on their seventh LP that they truly achieved a mass audience. This involved selling three million copies in the US and 15 million worldwide, in the glow of the indomitable hit singles “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence.”

Today marks 30 years since the release of Depeche Mode’s bleak, unit-shifting masterpiece, one of the most influential records of the ’90s, and one that made #342 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of all Time in 2012. The breadth of artists who’ve covered its songs is testimony to the album’s impact. These artists span an unimaginable variety of genres on an international scale, and they provide ample justification for the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.
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