What's the Point of the Pop Hit Covered as a Ballad

by Terry Sawyer

31 March 2008

 

I’m currently enamored with Mechanical Bride’s dim lit dirge take on “Umbrella” and Taken By Tree’s suicidal rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.  But I detect something of a rote, calculated maneuver in this gesture of ironically arranging despair around a song that’s more known for it’s upbeat, pop appeal.  It reminds me of Bill Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer routine, where popular songs are given a finger snapping, Wonderbread makeover in order to make them ready for hotel happy hour.  At some point, I think this kind of trend also produces diminishing interpretive returns.  I think it’s great when cover songs actually create new audible emphases, casting the original in wholly new emotional light.  But finding the deepest depressive streak in a Top 10 single seems about as one-dimensional as some of the pop gloss the songs are tweaking.  I also have to wonder aloud if the relationship of these covers to the original is derisive or complimentary.  So far I’m easily amused by the beauty and the contrast, but I can easily see the day where I’m completely bored by say, a melancholy Hot Chip take on Lil’ Wayne.

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