How to begin to explain the enigmatic giant that was Jackie Leven? Most reviews, in his life and beyond (he died in 2011), will comment on the mystery that he were not better known and better acclaimed. Uniformly lauded, somehow, possibly even deliberately, he remained so far under the radar as to be non-existent. Not that his talent, or he, were easy to hide, both being immense. If The Wanderer: A Tribute to Jackie Leven opens a few more ears to his music, it will have served a purpose, although I suspect it may more appeal to the already converted, a hard knit, hardcore bunch who talk in awe of his live performances. Please let me be wrong, and if, as you read this, you find yourself unfamiliar with the name, go seek him out. A retrospective collection also released recently, Straight Outta Caledonia, is as good a place to start as anywhere.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“The Scientist” is the one song that even the most ardent Coldplay phobes can grudgingly admit to, if not actually liking, agreeing that it’s a good song, with nine out of ten subconsciously singing along with it, sotto voce, should it ever appear of the radio. Which it does really quite often. Despite the near impossibility of recreating Chris Martin’s falsetto, you just can’t stop yourself from trying, hating yourself as you then have to.
No, that’s unfair, but the band do present an easy target, being so damn successful and so damn ubiquitous. In the time old time old of an unreconstructed music snob, I like to prefer their old stuff, always finding a tall poppy anathema to my enjoyment. From their second album, 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, “The Scientist” is the insanely catchy standout ballad in a record chock-full of earworm melodies. Catnip both to the lovelorn and those in love, it has become a favorite of slow dancers, although quite who or what the scientist was or is remains enigmatic. He sounds genuinely sorry enough.
The music of !!! can feel confounding on first listen. The group, whose name is pronounced “chk-chk-chk,” have made a rats’ nest of dance-punk releases across two decades, and their name sets somewhat of a high barrier of entry as to what they’re all about. Beneath the blistering production (and hard-to-Google identity) though, you’ll find a band with unflagging creative momentum and, especially on their recent records, some properly funky instrumental chops.
Camila Cabello and Olivia Rodrigo both performed at this weekend’s MTV Video Music Awards, and that’s not the only time their paths crossed in the past week. A few days ago, Cabello covered Rodrigo’s chart-topper “Good 4 U” for the BBC Live Lounge. And where Live Lounge performances are usually just in the BBC’s regular studio, Cabello brought Video Music Awards-level production to hers, performing at what looks like a wedding alter in a wild feathered cape.
Little Shop of Horrors is legendary among rock musicals. Adapted for the stage from the ‘60s B-movie — and then into a subsequent second film in 1986, based on that stage production — by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Little Shop’s songs are a wild melange of doo-wop, surreal soul and bubblegum pop. Yet by comparison to some other Big Rock Musicals, the show and its soundtrack have seemingly never had much of a crossover moment. Grease, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Wiz: all rely just as heavily on dark wit, big smirks, tight hooks and killer rhythm sections; each has generated some big-time, (counter)culture-permeating, standalone pop tunes. But, alas, not so with Little Shop.
“Nightswimming” was the fifth single from R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People. Uncharacteristic for both the album and the band as a whole, it’s just bassist Michael Mills on piano and Michael Stipe singing, backed by an orchestra. Stipe’s lyric is one of his simplest and most overt – unless you read what he says the song is really about, and then maybe it isn’t. Regardless of the lyric, the song is about as simple and straight-forward as REM ever got.
Okay Kaya is a Norwegian-American singer-songwriter whose appeared on Cover Me a few times in the last year. On her new cover of “Nightswimming,” recorded for Jagjaguwar’s upcoming Join the Ritual, Kaya completely abandons the piano melody. And she also dramatically alters the vocal melody. Instead, there’s Kaya’s multi-tracked voice and an ever-increasing assortment of keyboards and other gently distorted musical sounds. The aesthetic is very bedroom, as opposed to the orchestral vibe of the original. The vibe has changed, and it feels as though Kaya is telling a different story than Stipe was in the original. But there’s still the sense that you are hearing a very personal story, intended only for you.