Like has happened to so many bands, Blur’s biggest hit, “Song 2,” is extremely unrepresentative of Blur’s sound. A parody of American grunge from the band’s self-titled foray into American alternative and indie rock, “Song 2” sounds utterly unlike their earlier songs, which arguably were the definition of ’90s Brit Pop. Because of its nature – deliberate parody of grunge or joke on their record company – a lot of people think the song is dumb.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
When Elvis Costello first appeared on the scene, the press fell over themselves not only to praise him, but to pigeonhole him. He was a punk. He was a new waver. He was a nerd, what with his glasses and gawky suits (Dave Marsh memorably said that “Elvis Costello looks like Buddy Holly after drinking a can of STP Oil Treatment”). Most commonly, he was lumped in with Graham Parker, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, and others as an Angry Young Man. “I’m not angry,” Costello protested on My Aim Is True, and everyone nodded and smiled and patted his head.
Costello wasn’t interested in living on that particular cul-de-sac. He began expanding his musical palette, making more complex songs with more complex rhymes. He delved into other genres, starting with country & western (to the dismay of both Costello fans and C&W fans, and to the pleasant surprise of music fans) and moving on to blues, jazz, orchestral, classical pop, and more. As he became a greater student, he became a greater teacher, giving credit in word and action to his influences, penning a well-received autobiography, and hosting the talk/music show Spectacle, where he interviewed and played with his peers. He continues to record – his most recent album, The Boy Named If, was released earlier this year – and has settled into the role of elder statesman that his talent earned him long ago.
Costello turns one year elder today, his 68th birthday. We’re celebrating with a collection of the fifty best Elvis Costello covers we could get our hands on. They reflect his wide range of styles, revel in his literacy, plumb his depths. Most of all, they reveal his heart, showing over and over again how his love of song can lift, wrench, open up the people who listen to him and to his music. We hope you find this list as worthy of celebration as Elvis Costello is.
– Patrick Robbins, Features Editor
Aimee Mann – Brooklyn (Steely Dan cover)
If you missed the whole brouhaha when Steely Dan dropped Aimee Mann as their opening act, it’s too long to recap here. To skip to the end, Mann tweeted, “All is forgiven if Donald [Fagan] just tells me what Brooklyn is about.” And he did! So, at a recent show at City Winery, she covered it. All does indeed appear to be forgiven.
I did a Triple J “Like a Version” cover in my last post too – just because I’m Cover Me’s Australian correspondent doesn’t mean I’m trying to hog them! But in the latest edition of this long running series, one of Australia’s most popular Indigenous artists, Baker Boy, does a truly stunning version of Blur’s classic “Song 2.”
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Last year we polled our loyal band of Patreon-izers as to which Elvis Costello album they would like to read a Full Albums post about. The winner was This Year’s Model, and we duly dealt with it here. The runner-up, Armed Forces, has recently had its umpteenth revamp and re-release, making it entirely apt for it to addressed in turn.
1979’s Armed Forces was Costello’s third record all told, his second album with the Attractions, and the first actually bearing the Attractions’ name. It sold well, reaching #2 in the UK album charts and #10 in the US charts, notching platinum sales altogether in the former, gold in the latter. And, as stated, there have been a number of re-packages, notably in 1993 and 2002. 1993 added a few extra tracks, whilst 2002 threw in a whole extra disc, the selections on each chosen by Costello. This year’s release, Complete Armed Forces, goes a step further and is a mammoth box set (vinyl, naturally) with nine records.
But finding a decent set of covers proved elusive. Only now, thanks to a link being made available to one long-lost recording and to the commissioning of a totally new rendition of another, are we able to finally complete the circle.
Joan Wasser started out as a violinist, performing in a variety of bands throughout the ’90s including The Dambuilders, Black Beatle, and Antony and the Johnsons. She eventually broke out on her own, assuming the stage name Joan As Police Woman (inspired by the TV show Police Woman) and releasing her first solo album in 2006. After two solo records of original material, Joan As Police Woman released a limited edition covers album in 2009 that included a variety of songs, from T.I. to David Bowie. Four albums and over a decade later, Joan is back with Cover Two, a similarly eclectic batch of cover songs.
Joan As Police Woman describes the process of creating this album: “I start with the question, ‘WHY, exactly, do I love this song?’ I take those elements and reform them, sometimes removing much of the remaining material to refocus them through new glasses.” Her process is evident in the sound of the album. Her covers are sparse, but still evocative.