Lana Del Ray has been a divisive subject in the music community since her “Video Games” became the buzziest single of 2011. Quite a few artists seem to agree, however, that it’s a great track to cover. The latest to take on “Video Games” is John Mayer, who made a brief return this week from his self-imposed hiatus with a solo guitar version of the track.
Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “Extraordinary Merry Christmas,” Artie (Kevin McHale) is offered the chance to direct McKinley’s glee club in a televised Christmas special. Little do the other club members know he takes his Christmas inspiration from some bizarre sources.
“Extraordinary Merry Christmas” is not the first Christmas special to air on television this year. It’s not even the first Glee Christmas special to air, thanks to the irreverent, genius and criminally unpopular NBC sitcom Community, which last Thursday dedicated its entire Christmas episode (entitled “Regional Holiday Music”) to spoofing the Fox musical juggernaut. The staff behind Community probably couldn’t have predicted that they’d get payback for spending a half hour in Glee‘s shoes; this week, Glee decided to live in Community‘s world with an episode you’d expect to see on that show or, really, anywhere but Glee. The Christmas special Artie ends up producing is a (directly referred-to) mash-up of the much-maligned 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, Judy Garland’s classic 1963 Christmas special, and at the end some Charlie Brown Christmas for good measure. The result basically ends up a cover of a TV show. Though Glee certainly likes to allude to existing pop culture, even going so far as to recreate certain music videos shot-for-shot, it has never lived in another universe for two acts before. That’s Community territory, but Glee pulls it off marvelously.
The second of our Grammy cover coverage (after Mick Jagger covering Solomon Burke) comes as a heartwarming tribute to the recently deceased White Stripes. Well, that’s how we like to think of it. Sure, “Jolene” is a Dolly Parton song – and not exactly an obscure one – but the Stripes thoroughly owned it. The occasion was Dolly Parton’s Lifetime Achievement Award, but we’re sure at least some people in the audience made the connection to Jack and Meg. Hopefully the performers did too.
Despite the protestations of rock and roll scientists around the globe, INXS has finally accomplished the impossible: they’ve covered themselves. At least, that’s the impression emanating from Original Sin, their new record. INXS proclaims the album as a serious entry into their studio release catalog, but also as a tribute featuring “several of their signature hits re-imagined by some of the world’s finest musicians.”
Indeed, Original Sin contains 12 new-ish recordings by those loveable Australian new-wavers, but it features significant supplemental work from a bevy of guest stars. The album aims for a strange alchemy that walks the line between “serious new release” and “fun cover record,” and it basically fails at both. Sonically, for instance, Original Sin is a mess. The first three tracks (“Drum Opera,” “Mediate,” and “Original Sin”) slather on heavy bass and synthetic snare in a way that recalls the output of generic ’90s techno bands. It’s significantly disorienting to say the least. After that, the record mercifully switches things up a little with some straight-ahead rock, pop and country balladry. Taken as a whole, though, listeners never really recover from that initial auditory assault.
Katy Perry is selfish. It’s the only explanation for why she keeps stealing summer from everyone else. She hijacked the season in 2008 with “I Kissed a Girl” and now she’s repeated the trick for 2010 with “California Gurls,” a song even she admits is pretty stupid. Hey Katy, let someone else get a shot!
The stupid comes full circle when John Mayer covers the song. He first did so for the Q102 radio station in an acoustic jam a few weeks back. He readily admits to being vague on the words, but gamely plays along. Then last night in California, he brought his full band to the table for a jazzy instrumental version, complete with sax solo. “I’m sorry I had to sell out like that,” he said after the latter performance. “It’s what it takes to keep up with the Joneses.
Watch both performances below. Neither one’s gonna win any awards for recording quality, but they’re both funny in that sketchy John Mayer way.
The first post of the month always features a look at songs covering every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
There was never really any question which album Pitchfork would pick as its #1 of the 2000s. However, a predictable conclusion to their countdown shouldn’t distract from the merits of the winner, Radiohead’s Kid A. As the follow-up to their massively successful OK Computer, Kid A’s glitchy electro beats and spacey reverb washes elicited mixed reaction at best. Suffice to say, fans and critics have come around in the ensuing nine years, these ten artists in particular.<
Sonos – Everything In Its Right Place
I’m sure a cappella Radiohead has been tried many, many times. I’m sure it has failed just about every one of them. This is the rare exception. If Thom Yorke produced a cappella himself, it would probably sound like this. [Buy]
John Mayer – Kid A
The guy responsible for “Your Body Is a Wonderland” taking on the man who gave us “Karma Police”? Surely a disaster waiting to happen. The fact that it isn’t furthers my theory that Mayer may actually be a talented musician hiding it well. [Buy]
paradigm – The National Anthem
The Louisville four-piece did an almost exclusively Radiohead covers set in ’06, all instrumental, all ass-kicking. This one comes out of a lengthier medley with the Beatles’ “Come Together” (hence the abrupt ending). Click the link to get the whole show: [Buy]
Eliza Lumley – How to Disappear Completely
Many Radiohead fans claim this as their favorite song. It’s one of my least favorites. Eliza’s quiet piano lament may make me reconsider though. [Buy]
Vitamin String Quartet – Treefingers
I’ll be honest here: I tried hard to find a cover of this not churned out by the ubiquitous string quartet. I failed. This anonymous group has literally hundreds of tribute albums out (here’s a partial list), so their street cred in the cover community is below even Richard Cheese’s. Still, the original here is instrumental, so their approach works. They cover the whole album. [Buy]
Hanson – Optimistic
Going from the Vitamin String Quartet to Hanson? If this is my last blog post, it’s because I was chased off the internet. I won’t push my luck by saying the “MMMBop” boys do a good job here. But I’m not saying they don’t either… [Buy]
Sa-Ra – In Limbo
Techno, dance, crunk. Sa-Ra combines just about every genre Radiohead isn’t and inexcusably makes it work. [Buy]
We Versus the Shark – Idioteque
The slow grind of We separates this from the many folksy covers out there, giving it a hefty call-and-response churn that ably substitutes for the schizo drum pattern of the original. [Buy]
Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble – Amnesiac / Morning Bell
Technically this pairing is off the Amnesiac album, but the “Morning Bell” portion first appeared on Kid A. This twee-folk ditty from the Decemberists’ Chris Funk may make you forget that either album exists. [Buy]
Christopher O’Riley – Motion Picture Soundtrack
It seems fitting to close out with O’Riley, the solo piano cover artist extraordinaire. He’s got two discs of Radiohead covers out, both worth getting. [Buy]