When an artist releases an EP comprised entirely of covers, it’s generally seen as gimmicky or just for fun; really brilliant covers are usually few and far between. (Look at the Beatles covers found on the B-sides of any Oasis from the ’90s; you’ll see what I mean.) This is not the case, however, for Bastille, a South London-based group led by songwriter Dan Smith. If anything, Bastille expresses themselves best through cover versions; though their career is young, based on the material they’ve already released, Other People’s Heartache EP is their finest work yet. Like Frank Ocean’s mixtape masterpiece Nostalgia, Ultra, this EP shows how a powerful interpretation can become something of a unique song in its own right. In a few of the songs here, I’m hard-pressed to even remember the original because of how captivating the arrangements are.
As the title suggests, Other People’s Heartache is one band’s take on the accounts of lost love once sung by others. The covers here are varied, ranging from recent work like Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans” to the early nineties dance hit “Rhythm of the Night”. The latter is one of the EP’s shining moments, taking the club beat of the original and transforming into a cool slice of indie pop that exudes a nocturnal essence. The former is also quite something; opening with “Lux Aeterna” from Clint Mansell’s score for Requiem for a Dream, this version takes a spacier, string-backed approach to Del Rey’s hit. Best of all is the cover of City High’s “What Would You Do?”, a track I had almost entirely forgotten about. Smith’s vocal here is especially captivating; you really get the impression that he is witnessing and coming to understand the heartbreak of the song. He even manages to put a fresh spin on the overplayed “What is Love?” on “Adagio for Strings.”
In a year full of solid mixtapes (BBU’s bell hooks is my favorite record of the year thus far), Other People’s Heartache stands out in demonstrating the power of a good cover. In interpreting the heartache of others, Bastille reveal how at any moment, we might come to suffer the heartache we’ve only ever witnessed. The pain of being alone, of not fitting in, or wondering if we’ll ever love is a universal experience. From beginning to end, Other People’s Heartache is a beautiful evocation of that fact.