The second of our Grammy cover coverage (after Mick Jagger covering Solomon Burke) comes as a heartwarming tribute to the recently deceased White Stripes. Well, that’s how we like to think of it. Sure, “Jolene” is a Dolly Parton song – and not exactly an obscure one – but the Stripes thoroughly owned it. The occasion was Dolly Parton’s Lifetime Achievement Award, but we’re sure at least some people in the audience made the connection to Jack and Meg. Hopefully the performers did too.
Despite the protestations of rock and roll scientists around the globe, INXS has finally accomplished the impossible: they’ve covered themselves. At least, that’s the impression emanating from Original Sin, their new record. INXS proclaims the album as a serious entry into their studio release catalog, but also as a tribute featuring “several of their signature hits re-imagined by some of the world’s finest musicians.”
Indeed, Original Sin contains 12 new-ish recordings by those loveable Australian new-wavers, but it features significant supplemental work from a bevy of guest stars. The album aims for a strange alchemy that walks the line between “serious new release” and “fun cover record,” and it basically fails at both. Sonically, for instance, Original Sin is a mess. The first three tracks (“Drum Opera,” “Mediate,” and “Original Sin”) slather on heavy bass and synthetic snare in a way that recalls the output of generic ’90s techno bands. It’s significantly disorienting to say the least. After that, the record mercifully switches things up a little with some straight-ahead rock, pop and country balladry. Taken as a whole, though, listeners never really recover from that initial auditory assault.
Katy Perry is selfish. It’s the only explanation for why she keeps stealing summer from everyone else. She hijacked the season in 2008 with “I Kissed a Girl” and now she’s repeated the trick for 2010 with “California Gurls,” a song even she admits is pretty stupid. Hey Katy, let someone else get a shot!
The stupid comes full circle when John Mayer covers the song. He first did so for the Q102 radio station in an acoustic jam a few weeks back. He readily admits to being vague on the words, but gamely plays along. Then last night in California, he brought his full band to the table for a jazzy instrumental version, complete with sax solo. “I’m sorry I had to sell out like that,” he said after the latter performance. “It’s what it takes to keep up with the Joneses.
Watch both performances below. Neither one’s gonna win any awards for recording quality, but they’re both funny in that sketchy John Mayer way.
The first post of the month always features a look at songs covering every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
There was never really any question which album Pitchfork would pick as its #1 of the 2000s. However, a predictable conclusion to their countdown shouldn’t distract from the merits of the winner, Radiohead’s Kid A. As the follow-up to their massively successful OK Computer, Kid A’s glitchy electro beats and spacey reverb washes elicited mixed reaction at best. Suffice to say, fans and critics have come around in the ensuing nine years, these ten artists in particular.<
Sonos – Everything In Its Right Place
I’m sure a cappella Radiohead has been tried many, many times. I’m sure it has failed just about every one of them. This is the rare exception. If Thom Yorke produced a cappella himself, it would probably sound like this. [Buy]
John Mayer – Kid A
The guy responsible for “Your Body Is a Wonderland” taking on the man who gave us “Karma Police”? Surely a disaster waiting to happen. The fact that it isn’t furthers my theory that Mayer may actually be a talented musician hiding it well. [Buy]
paradigm – The National Anthem
The Louisville four-piece did an almost exclusively Radiohead covers set in ’06, all instrumental, all ass-kicking. This one comes out of a lengthier medley with the Beatles’ “Come Together” (hence the abrupt ending). Click the link to get the whole show: [Buy]
Eliza Lumley – How to Disappear Completely
Many Radiohead fans claim this as their favorite song. It’s one of my least favorites. Eliza’s quiet piano lament may make me reconsider though. [Buy]
Vitamin String Quartet – Treefingers
I’ll be honest here: I tried hard to find a cover of this not churned out by the ubiquitous string quartet. I failed. This anonymous group has literally hundreds of tribute albums out (here’s a partial list), so their street cred in the cover community is below even Richard Cheese’s. Still, the original here is instrumental, so their approach works. They cover the whole album. [Buy]
Hanson – Optimistic
Going from the Vitamin String Quartet to Hanson? If this is my last blog post, it’s because I was chased off the internet. I won’t push my luck by saying the “MMMBop” boys do a good job here. But I’m not saying they don’t either… [Buy]
Sa-Ra – In Limbo
Techno, dance, crunk. Sa-Ra combines just about every genre Radiohead isn’t and inexcusably makes it work. [Buy]
We Versus the Shark – Idioteque
The slow grind of We separates this from the many folksy covers out there, giving it a hefty call-and-response churn that ably substitutes for the schizo drum pattern of the original. [Buy]
Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble – Amnesiac / Morning Bell
Technically this pairing is off the Amnesiac album, but the “Morning Bell” portion first appeared on Kid A. This twee-folk ditty from the Decemberists’ Chris Funk may make you forget that either album exists. [Buy]
Christopher O’Riley – Motion Picture Soundtrack
It seems fitting to close out with O’Riley, the solo piano cover artist extraordinaire. He’s got two discs of Radiohead covers out, both worth getting. [Buy]
I’m seeing Radiohead on Wednesday night, and that seemed as good an excuse as any for this week’s theme.
EDIT: My review of the concert here.
Easy Star All-Stars – Let Down
From the people who brought you Dub Side of the Moon, it’s Radiodread! You can probably guess the musical genre, but they’re surprisingly adept at bringing the Jamaican flavor to the music, throwing in horns and a big chorus on top of the backbeat guitar.
Jorge Drexler – High and Dry
You may not know the name of this Latin guitar master, but Oscar does. In 2004 his song from The Motorcycle Diaries made him the first person from Uruguay to win an Academy Award. Throw this cover in a film, and I’d vote for a second.
Nickel Creek – Just
Fast-paced bluegrass is what Nickel Creek does, and they do it well.
John Mayer – Kid A
This is Mayer in his acoustic “Your Body Is a Wonderland” guise, not the blues guitar god, but don’t hold that against this simple power-chord ballad.
Northern Kings – Creep
Wikipedia calls them a “Finnish symphonic metal cover band,” following in the footsteps of Lordi but with less elaborate costumes. They do everyone from Lionel Ritchie to Jethro Tull on their album Reborn and here they bring their epic goth to Radiohead. You may well hate it, but for a song that’s been covered a billion times, at least it’s different.
Christopher O’Riley – Arpeggi
A classical pianist, O’Riley has a whole series of Yorke songs in his repertoire, many of which can be downloaded at his website. This is a cover of the early live version of a song that would be revised for In Rainbows as “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi.” O’Riley says he prefers the early version for “the more minimalist/tone generative aspects inherent in the song structure.” Okay.
John Vanderslice – Karma Police
A few years ago Stereogum commissioned covers of every song off OK Computer to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The whole thing is downloadable here (track-by-track notes here), but this off-beat drum machine take is a highlight, with some of the hardest-rocking acoustic guitar you’re likely to hear this side of the D coming in halfway through.
Gnarls Barkley – Reckoner
Cee-Lo’s voice is perfect for this song, which they’ve been doing in their sets as of late. A higher quality source (soundboard) than most others circulating.
KT Tunstall – Fake Plastic Trees
The introspective quiet-but-whiney female thing got real old after Vanessa Carlton and Alanis Morisette in the 90’s, but this song works well in the style.
Gillian Welch – Black Star
Country songwriter Welch makes brings sweet harmonies and guitar work to this one, avoiding any temptation to make it all Nashville honky-tonk.
Sa-Ra – In Limbo
From the electronic-ey tribute album Exit Music: Songs for Radioheads, Sa-Ra brings a funk element to all the synthesizers. More fun in one song than all of Kid A.
Calico Horse – Idioteque
I would have thought this song was uncoverable. I would have been wrong. It sounds perfectly natural in this quiet, drum machine free guise.