I love covers of songs. Not all of them – I hate a) punk covers of songs and b) anything done in the Radio 1 Live Lounge – but there’s something about a good cover that really appeals to me. Maybe it’s the recontextualisation, seeing something familiar in a new light. Maybe it’s the artist’s love of the song shining through that I enjoy. Even more possibly, maybe it’s because people only choose to cover good songs and use their time honed skills to make them sound awesome.
It used to be common for artists to record “covers”. In fact, I think back in the olden days of the 20th Century they just used to be called “songs” and if a “song” was good everyone would record a “version” and the best “version” would be a “hit”. Then, if your a certain school of rock critic, you say the Beatles came along and spoiled everything by making everyone write their own shitty, shitty songs.
Funnily enough, I suck at covers. Suck. This mainly because I barely proficient at playing songs I wrote. But this is another story…
Here are 5 of my favourite covers.
Cat Power – Satisfaction
I could have chosen the Devo version, which is great, but this is better. I didn’t really know Satisfaction when I first heard Cat Power’s version but when I did I was impressed by how she stripped out the chorus and made it a new song. At the time I just thought it was achingly beautiful and defeated the song sounded.
Sun Kil Moon – Tiny Cities
I hated, hated, hated [stop repeating words - ed.] the original of this when I first heard it. Then I heard this – which is sparse and beautiful (I’m going to describe all of these as beautiful). Then I relistened to the original, which I now love. True story. Also, some Modest Mouse fans truly hate this album – possibly because it’s so radically different to the originals, possibly because they’re idiots, who knows?
Clem Snide – Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Grievience
One where I had never heard the original. I enjoyed the lyrics and melody and the lovely arrangement. It is lovely. Daniel Johnston is also awesome.
Glen Adams – I Wanna Hold Your Hand
I have a whole boxset of reggae Beatles covers. I’m not sure how I feel about “genre” covers in general. But I think I’m generally pro Trojan Records covers of pop music from the 60s. This is weird and slightly hypnotic.
Hard’n'Phirm – Rodeohead
My opinion on comedy covers? Generally low but seem as though I (almost grudgingly) love comedy music, I love this. Technically excellent, shows how good the Radiohead songs are, funny etc.etc.
Can I shock you? I like Sun Kil Moon.*
Ever since hearing Red House Painters after being dumped by my first serious girlfriend I have been a huge Mark Kozelek fan. The lyrics were mopey, heartbroken, and the mood was introspective. Winner! I’ve bought live albums, I’ve bought T-shirts to get “exclusive” live albums, I’ve even bought a hardback book of lyrics. Fandom!
Mark Kozelek is known for album’s that as, Amazon put it, are “like an hourlong microscopic dissection of a broken heart”. What he’s not so known for is his humour. There’s evidence here and there; a downbeat folky album of Modest Mouse covers (actually excellent); almost calling the best of Red House Painters “Redtrospective”; the lyric “Scenesters with their beards and tennis shoes/Skinny and pudgy ugly dudes on “Third and Seneca” from Admiral Fell Promises, SKM’s last-but-one album.
In fact, to garble the above quoted lyric, “pudgy ugly dudes in tennis shoes” could be the key to Mark Kozelek’s new album (as Sun Kil Moon) , “Among The Leaves”.
To step back a little, I went to see Mark Kozelek play in Manchester way back in 2007. I remember thinking
a) “Hey he’s pretty funny”
b) “Hey he’s kind of an asshole”
He went on about Ricky Hatton (he’s a massive boxing fan), grumbled at the audience a bit, made a few lame jokes, played some beautiful songs. He came across as a someone who was not the introspective balladeer of his songs, in fact it would be a surprise if he was.
It seems that, on Among The Leaves, Mark Kozelek is trying to show himself as he actually is – or at least a different side to him – compared to the melancholic man that usually comes out when he writes his songs.
In an interview on http://sunkilmoon.com/hearsay2012.pdf they state the album is “melancholy” and “somber”. Whilst it’s true all the songs aren’t sunshine and light, it’s clear from song titles “The Moderately Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man” and “Not Much Rhymes with Everything’s Awesome at All Times” that Kozelek’s tongue is not a million miles away from his cheek. I think Kozelek is giveing a much truer, less melodramatic, image of his life than the narrow focus of previous SKM/RHP albums. He sings on (two) songs of getting the clap (“a little sting”), being bored, not liking the UK all that much (a common American musician complaint) and the man who fixed his guitars….
Previously, he has put women on a pedestal – I’m thinking of the whole of April (about his recently deceased ex) and old songs like “Sumemr Dress” – but on this album a different picture emerges. There’s the “moderately talented young woman” and also the “woman dressed like a witch” he “picked up at 12 and she was gone by 2″.
So as this is an album, what’s the music like? Mainly acoustic, nothing ornately arranged, just guitar and voice. This is similar to “Admiral Fell Promises” but that album was intricate, even ornate, and the songs felt hugely crafted – on this one there’s a sense of things being a bit more tossed off, most definitely looser. Kozelek says in his interview with Hearsay, “I don’t writer bad songs but some of these are pretty bad. I just wanted to show some vunerability and not care.”
This is particularly clear on tracks such as “Track number 8″ -”I wrote this one and I know it aint great – I’ll probably sequence it track number 8″. The song, naturally, appears, on track number 11.
So this isn’t a great album. But I think it is a good one. It’s fun to listen to mainly because it’s Mark Kozelek telling the story of his life at the moment, and, you know what, he’s a pretty entertaining guy.
*To avoid confusion Mark Kozelek is a singer songwriter who is the main man behind Sun Kil Moon and previously The Red House Painters.