Akron-based duo The Black Keys are going back to their roots in 2024. After more than 20 years in the business and a lifetime of friendship, they will release their new album Ohio Players in April, and a documentary on their work together will also be released this year. Their latest single from the album is a cover of the William Bell classic “I Forgot to be Your Lover.”
Nouvelle Vague is back with a new collection titled Should I Stay or Should I Go? I’m going to hesitate in answering that question, as there is the one more demanding, about how this lot are still going. No offense intended, mind; back in the day, Nouvelle Vague’s bossa nova revisiting of punk and new wave songs was really something to behold, with both the novelty and the application well worthy of praise and merit. But now? I know a version has been touring, but I hadn’t appreciated they were still marketing something new, or, more to the point, new to them. So, is this a soft sophisticated samba swirl through the song cycles of Eilish and Swift, Sheeran and whoever else the young people adore? Ummmm, nope. This is a further trawl through the hallowed dusty halls of the last century. Or, more to the point, hoping the audiences who loved them near two decades ago will still love them now, and are still listening to their tired old record collections.
I needed to check out the rationale, hastening to the requisite website. The fact that one of the originators, Olivier Libaux, is now the late Olivier Libaux should be enough confirm him spinning gently, counterclockwise, in his grave. I am presuming his then co-conspirator Marc Collin is still at the helm, as the agenda is seemingly unchanged, setting up a set of chanteuses unfamiliar with the originals, ironically perhaps all the more available as time flits by. So why does it seem now to, largely, pall, where it once delighted? Follow me…..
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!
I first heard The The’s Infected sometime in the late 1980s. I was unimpressed. So was Ira A. Robbins of Trouser Press, who called Matt Johnson’s first album, Burning Blue Soul, “formless ‘songs’ with laughably precious lyrics.” And so was Robert Christgau, whose summation of The The read, in its entirety, “Uh-uh.” By Soul Mining, Johnson shifted gears and reverted to a more popular ’80s pop sound. But by then, I had moved on to the Pixies.
Some years later, I ran upon Dusk in a cache of used CDs that I had bought for my online CD store. All of a sudden I was a fan. Here is someone who understands pain. Here is someone that writes empathy: “Your problems will be mine,” he promises in “Helpline Operator.” Just the title of the song “Love Is Stronger Than Death,” moves us before we even hear the first note. Trouser Press agreed, reversing a years-long vendetta by writing that Johnson had matured into “a subtle and versatile artist.” The The was the definite article.
At this point, wanting to learn more about this band and trying to search on a computer in the early years of the internet, I ran into my first wall: search engines. In the beginning, search engines would disassociate the two “the”s. Basically all pages with the word “the” would appear. So…all pages. Searching for the band really was impossible outside of official channels, especially before YouTube. Things eventually got easier, but even now, decades after the band’s first album, I started to have flashbacks to the early days while curating this piece. When I searched the Live Archive, for instance, any accidental repeat of the word, like a typo (Think “The The Grateful Dead”) showed up in results.
So I have worked mightily to find these covers, and have posted songs from every imaginable source. I probably listened to 50 hours of covers for this piece. Here we go.
The 1975 recently released a cover of “Now Is the Hour” for the upcoming show The New Look about designer Christian Dior in Nazi-occupied Paris. While many people attribute “Now Is the Hour” to Bing Crosby, the tune was actually first written in Australia in 1913. It was then redone again as a Maori version, so it is also known as The Maori farewell song (Aka Pō Atarau). With rich, gentle, and flowing backup vocals, Crosby’s famous version was charming and romantic with the oom-pah-pah guitars, magical celeste-like keys, and piano sealing the deal.
Peripatetic guitar legend John Scofield describes himself as a “Road Dog”, someone who spends his life on the road, figuratively playing concerts all over the world and metaphorically moving between genres. In the 2022 documentary Inside Scofield he noted that he loved being close to New York City, so a short trip from his home to record for the Stephen Colbert’s Late Show with Louis Cato’s house band would not be a chore. Their rendition of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” is a testament to Scofield’s long love of Ray Charles’ music.