Jul 232021

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

The Middle covers

You’re world weary. One too many people have hurt you, let you down, robbed you of your earnestness (it’s an important trait, after all). But then, as if to snap you out of your downward spiral…. Hey! Don’t write yourself off yet. “The Middle” is a collection of affirmations that everyone needs to hear at some point in their life. Do I sometimes worry that I’ll dim the song’s magic by overplaying it? Yes, but hey, when you need it, you need it.

If you can believe it, Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American, renamed Jimmy Eat World after the September 11th attacks made the album title a little too real, turns twenty this month. For every hater of the album, there is a love letter written in defense. After all… It’s only in your head, you feel left out or looked down on.

Yes, you can jump right to track three, but I recommend the following self-care routine: start at the beginning, rock out your angst to the title track (head banging optional) and then get in the introspective mood with “A Praise Chorus” (cover-esque in its borrowing of other songs’ lines to make up the chorus) before hearing the blood-pressure reducing opening lines of “The Middle.” After that, continue on for more balms to the soul. (For example, just ask any 2003 NHL video game player and they’ll likely reminisce how “Sweetness” provided the perfect soundtrack to their virtual victories.)

For twenty years, “The Middle” has been by our side, coaching us through life’s ups and downs. We’ve blasted it through our headphones when drowning out the world’s nonsense. We’ve belted it out in front of strangers at a karaoke bar. And we’ve crossed our fingers every time we spot a cover artist with a track called “The Middle,” hoping for this gem and not the Maren Morris song by the same name. (Maybe that last one is just me.) And no offense to Morris, but I just want my anthem of the downtrodden please! I can guarantee the covers that follow are of just that.

Caroline Spence – The Middle (Jimmy Eat World cover)

Just try your best, try everything you can, and don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.

There are rock-out days, and there are brooding days. Here’s Caroline Spence’s version of “The Middle” for the latter. It’s peaceful, almost a lullaby, starting with an acoustic guitar, and then yielding to a piano before they join together for the rest of the song. Spence’s voice is light and soothing. She used to close out her concerts with this cover, leaving her audience with this feel-good message.

Audrey Assad – The Middle (Jimmy Eat World cover)

Hey, you know they’re all the same. You know you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in.

Now we’re moving into dream pop territory. This version starts out simple, with another light touch on vocals and piano. Then Audrey Assad kicks it up a notch, with more assertive percussion and some extra synth partway through.  Then everything drops out, and we’re just left with our own thoughts for a brief moment. The music swells again for another pass through the chorus with its lyrical reassurances.

Prince Fox – The Middle (Jimmy Eat World cover)

Live right now. Yeah, just be yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else.

Words to live by right there. What starts out as a fairly faithful cover, turns a corner and reveals some elements of a dance club bop. There is some voice changer effects (nothing too wild, don’t worry), and I take it to be foreshadowing that even in the future, “The Middle” will continue its reign as an uplifting hit.

Pomplamoose – The Middle (Jimmy Eat World cover)

It just takes some time. Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride. Everything, everything will be just fine.

Now we get funky with deadpan Nataly Dawn. The vocals are a little exaggerated at first, like someone at a slam poetry reading trying to get the syllables to flow exactly right. The vocals loosen up as the song progresses, and especially alongside the shredding guitar solo turned guitar groove.

Reina del Cid – The Middle (Jimmy Eat World cover)

Everything, everything will be all right, all right!

If it’s been a particularly bad day, when you get to the guitar solo you are obligated to air guitar with everything you have left until you end up on the floor. I don’t make the rules. This cover provides an impressive guitar solo to test out this approach.  Reina del Cid’s harmonies and partnering guitars provide a rich and warm sound. I’ve always thought the acoustic version of the original on the deluxe edition of Bleed American holds its own, and the duo shows us that the song can rock even without electric guitars.

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