Titus Andronicus‘s highly-anticipated new double album The Most Lamentable Tragedy clocks in at 29 songs. Amidst killer singles like “Dimed Out” and “Fatal Flow” are 10-minute epics, short hardcore blasts, and a pair of covers: the Pogues‘ “A Pair of Brown Eyes” and Daniel Johnston‘s “I Had Lost My Mind” (they also riff on this one on original track “I Lost My Mind (+@)”. Now you can hear both covers.
Fifty years ago, a covers album wasn’t called a “covers album.” It was called an album. Full stop.
Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Billie Holiday – most albums anyone bought were “covers albums” as we’d think of them today, but that’s not how folks thought of them then. Once the public began putting a premium on singers writing their own songs in the ’60s the concept of course shifted, so that an artist doing a covers album has to be like Michael Jordan playing baseball – an okay diversion but let’s get back to the main event please.
More so this year than ever before though, that pendulum seems to be swinging back in small but meaningful ways to what an album originally meant. More and more artists are releasing LPs saying, this is not my new quote-on-quote “covers album,” this is my new album (that happens to consist of covers). The attitude showcases a confidence and surety of purpose that shows they take performing other peoples songs every bit as seriously as they do their own.
That holds true for both of our top two covers albums this year, and plenty more sprinkled throughout. Which isn’t to knock anyone doing a covers album as a lark, novelty, tribute, or side project – you’ll see plenty of those here as well – but any blurred lines that put a “covers album” on the same level as a “normal” album have to be a good thing.
Start our countdown on Page 2…
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!
Just over three decades since The Birthday Party helped spark off the doom & gloom sub-stream in ‘80s post-punk, Nick Cave now belongs in the great club of certified songwriters. Like several members of that club, Cave has his share of skeptics, and it’s not so easy to bring them into the fold. Nonbelievers in latter-day Nick Cave would benefit from checking out the Birthday Party, or Cave’s earlier albums with The Bad Seeds, to better appreciate one of the most prolific and consistent musicians to rise from the ashes of the punk era.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Honky Tonk Women” by The Rolling Stones may be the most perfect single they ever released. Bold talk? Perhaps. But consider that cowbell, played by producer Jimmy Miller; that opening line, delivered by Mick Jagger in a way that lets you know that he is about to be taken advantage of and not her; or that Keith Richards riff after the opening line, so perfect that when he played it backwards twelve years later on “Start Me Up” it was still perfect. And don’t forget Charlie Watts’s drumming, never flashy and never stronger; those horns coming in during the break, somehow giving it more swing. And then there’s that chorus: made to be shouted along to at the top of your lungs. And all in just three minutes.
Each year seems to bring a new cover of The Pogues’ acerbic Christmas classic “Fairytale of New York.” Everyone from Coldplay to Dropkick Murphys to Florence Welch has offered a spin on Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl’s bitter duet, though few come close to the original. The latest contender is London-based singer/songwriter and rapper Maverick Sabre, who recently performed “Fairytale” on BBC Radio 1.
Back in September, we heard Scarlett Johansson’s contribution to the new Serge Gainsbourg tribute From Gainsbourg to Lulu. The full album is now out in Europe and you can stream some choice cuts below. Though Lulu himself takes about half the tracks, the guests he bring in range from the obvious (Rufus Wainwright) to the mildly startling (Shane MacGowan). Heck, there’s even a few more actors (Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis) for those who loved the ScarJo vibe.