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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Three Great Modern Covers

Sure, you get boring windbags like the Mono Men mangling 'Kick Out The Jams' because they are just too dumb to see why it's not a good idea, and you get some idiots plaintively attempting to match the impossibly high bar laid down by a great recording and deservedly falling flat on their faces (like when the New Bomb Turks tried to cover 'Bad Girl', what, you thought it would turn out good? What are you, fucking stupid?). But there's many cases of an okay to good band doing a perfectly passable cover of a decent to great song, even if it lacks that certain something... But to tackle a challenging song and come out okay? Or offer a good reinterpretation of an original? That's something. Here are three covers from the past decade or so I thought I'd mention...

Monoshock 'Burn My Eye'
Let's get this out of the way. I'm not much of a Radio Birdman fan. I've got some reissues and I rarely listen to them. I tried to enjoy the band, it just never clicked, and I don't think it ever will. For Christ's sake, they sound like a solid hard rock outfit and little more. The anthemic choruses? The overly proficient solos? No thank you. Oh, wait, what about the song titles? 'Love Kills'? 'Descent Into The Maelstrom'? 'New Race'? Was Tek already thumbing through his dogeared copy of the punk cliches handbook? For every good Birdman song, there's a track like the aforementioned (and lousy) 'Love Kills' or 'Man With A Golden Helmet', which flat-out sucks. Anyone foolish enough to think Radio Birdman can hold a candle to The Saints is treading dangerously deep into dumbbell territory. Even The Fun Things' tribute to Tek & Co., 'When The Birdman Fly' has an immediacy that beats out the band they're name checking, hands down. As for Monoshock's great cover of Birdman's tune, they take the original and bury it under a fearsome wash of noise with an great unrestrained vocal performance. The cover version careens along recklessly and improves on the original's far more controlled, and less imaginative version. Good for them. Did you know that Dennis Tek is a doctor? So is the annoying little idiot from The Soledad Brothers. I don't really dislike Tek's output, I just find it terminally uninteresting (despite me owning some of his records). However I'd be perfectly willing to burn his recordings to appease whatever dark and evil Lovecraftian Gods that allow the Soledad Brothers to blight the world, if that's what it took to get a cosmic law banning Doctors from participating in rock bands.

The Dipers 'Shake'
The Andre William's chestnut has been covered dozens of time already, and it's easy to see the appeal of such a wonderfully crafted song. I don't know if The Dipers version can really be considered a cover as such, they just strip mined the barest elements of the original and build up their own bull in a china shop extrapolation. It kicks off with a with pulsing noise pounding through swirling feedback, settling momentarily, then the crushing riff kicks in. Before you can get your bearings, drummer Dean Whitmore starts bashing all over his kit, and the song takes off. Dean tries to see how many fills he can cram into a song that's still well under two minutes, without managing to ever sounding wanky. My hat's off to him. The approach is polar opposite to the A-Frames' more calculated precision, but like the A-Frames, they managed to take familiar elements and warp them into something entirely new and different. It's a creative arrangement too, as the repetitive verse gives way to chaos, and back again. The bass doesn't start until halfway through the song, and when it does - this goes double for when the volume know is cranked up really high - it hits hard. It's a rarely used device, but it's utilized perfectly here. Just when you think there is no way it can more frenzied, The Dipers manage to escalate it. Great cover.

Blacktop 'Here I Am, Here I Always Am'
Even though it's Viet's earliest, most accessible stuff, it's a real pain in the ass to cover someone as unique as Beefheart. You're just asking for trouble. People try, there's a pointless tribute LP floating around somewhere. Magazine pissed all over 'I Love You, You Big Dummy', and Mark E. Smith will occasionally spit out a few spare Beefheart snippets onto a Peel Session. I can only think of two great Beefheart covers at the hand of a rock band. The Scientists' impressive cover of 'Clear Spot' manages to sound nearly as ominous as the original, and Blacktop's take on 'Here I Am, Here I Always Am'. Mick's voice never sounded so desperate as he tackles the song headlong, coasting on ugly waves of relentless percussion. Good stuff.

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