100 best covers: #77 The Polyphonic Spree “Lithium”

<< #78    |    #76 >>

Some of you might remember that I started off the countdown of my favourite songs of 1991 with a post on Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit”. I bestowed upon it an honourable mention rather than ranking it in the list and explained how Nirvana excited me at first, much like it did everyone else, but how I quickly became oversaturated with the mere mention of them. It took many years before I could appreciate the band and I think swearing off of commercial radio went a long way towards getting me to this place. All that being said, there were a handful of songs from their catalogue that didn’t have me running screaming, even back then, and “Lithium” was one of them.

Ten or fifteen years after the release of “Nevermind”, my wife and I and another couple of friends went to see David Bowie on his “Reality” tour. We walked into Scotiabank Place (or whatever it was called at that time) to find our seats during the opening band and they were quite the sight, all active and dancing and gesturing in white flowing robes and so many of them, they filled the stage. It was one of the few concerts that I didn’t try to get a grasp on the opening act in advance but they made such an impact on all of us that I hit the internet the next day to investigate. I learned that The Polyphonic Spree were a symphonic rock collective orchestrated by Tim DeLaughter after the dissolution of his 90s alt-rock band Tripping Daisy (“I got a girl”). I checked out their debut and loved it but still distrusted them a bit, given their garb, almost impervious sunshine, and cult-like feel. My friend Tim’s assessment, after playing them for him, was that they sounded good but that they were ‘too damned happy’.

Between the releases of their second and third albums, The Polyphonic Spree released an EP called “The wait” that included three covers amongst its five songs. It’s likely obvious by now that one of these was the subject of this post, a cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium”, and well, I love it.

The muscular guitar intro from the original is turned into the plinkety-plink of piano keys. Kurt’s hurting angst becomes Tim’s unending hopefulness and he’s joined by a choir of angels. Of course, both versions turn it up at the chorus, the original, a raging mosh pit and the cover is a symphony gone psycho. Fellow blogger, Steve for the deaf, in his post on this very same cover, described it as “like wearing [Guernica] as a T-Shirt because you like horses”, which I found hilarious and more than a little apt. Indeed, Steve’s comparison reminded me of the gen-x parents I saw out one night who had dressed their toddler in a onesie that featured the iconic image of Che Guevara and the words: “I don’t even know who this is”.

I find it’s usually best not to take ourselves too seriously. What are your thoughts? Good fun? Or is it too soon?

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

Vinyl love: The National “Boxer”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The National
Album Title: Boxer
Year released: 2007
Year reissued: 2011
Details: yellow

The skinny: The last post in this series featured the just purchased brand new album by The National, “I am easy to find”, and it’s been on regular rotation on the turntable ever since. The American alternative rock band has consistently put out excellent records, at least since I picked up on them. And the record that started it off for me was this one, “Boxer”, an album I ranked at number four for 2007 when I counted down that year’s best album many months ago now. In that same post, I talked about how I fed an MP3 version of the album through my stereo so that I could record it to cassette tape in order to listen to it in my car. Good times. Now I just spin it on my turntable in pretty pretty yellow.

Standout track: “Mistaken for strangers”

Best tunes of 1991: #2 Chapterhouse “Mesmerise”

<< #3    |    #1 >>

“Pearl”, the standout single from Chapterhouse’s excellent debut album, “Whirlpool”, appeared earlier, at number 15 on this list, and now we have what is easily my favourite track by this band at number two.

Yes. “Mesmerise”. Let’s paint that picture.

Circa 1993 or 1994, the heaving dance floor is packed at the Dance Cave, the upstairs floor of one of Toronto’s more infamous concert venues, Lee’s Palace. The cheap $2-a-glass mystery draft has been flowing freely all night long. In the middle of the crowd, a tall, stoop shouldered, and ridiculously skinny young man is dancing to Adorable’s “Homeboy” or perhaps, Catherine Wheel’s “I want to touch you.” He is breaking a sweat under his extra large Wonder Stuff t-shirt and baggy green corduroys, requiring him to periodically remove his bucket hat to gather his shaggy thick brown hair, roughly the same shade as his long sideburns and goatee. His friend Tim, who is just back in town on break from Waterloo university, joins him on the floor, handing him a glass, his portion of the ‘next round’, just as the song ends and a new one begins with an unfamiliar, yet inviting piano melody. The young man hesitates a moment, should he stay or should he go, his friend definitely shows no sign of leaving the dance floor. Indeed, he has already started into his trademark sway, eyes sliding closed. So our protagonist finds the groove and starts moving, slipping easily in with the delicious beat, washes of synths, and hazy vocals. Two minutes in and he is in love. He wakes Tim with a nudge on the shoulder and yells the question in his ear above the din. “Who is this?” Tim responds but he is not sure he heard him quite right so he repeats it. “Chapterhouse?!” To which, Tim nods and continues dancing.

I can’t be certain now but I’m reasonably sure that this is as good an approximation as any as to how it went down. That skinny young man, realizing that “Mesmerise” didn’t appear on either of Chapterhouse’s full length albums thus far, because he had them both on CD, immediately went out on the hunt for the EP of the same name, finding it used at the long closed down Penguin Music. And yeah, I’ve still got it. It’s one of the few CDs I may never get rid of.

As an EP and single, “Mesmerise” bridged the chronological and philosophical gap between their first and only two albums, from the guitar-heavy shoegaze majesty of “Whirlpool” to the synth-driven dreamy dance of “Blood music”. This track shades heavy on both and is just so… damned… beautiful. Yes. “Mesmerise” is beautiful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.