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

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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.

100 best covers: #78 Codeine Velvet Club “I am the resurrection”

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Just over a week ago, on May 2, an album that many consider one of the greatest, if not the greatest debut album ever, The Stone Roses’ self-titled album, celebrated its 30th anniversary. The final track on the original UK release of that album was this dance floor freak out, encapsulated in an epic, eight plus minutes called, “I am the resurrection”. It was steady and funky drumming by Reni, a muscular bass line by Mani, John Squire’s beautiful guitar wankery, and a young Ian Brown brashly invoking New Testament messiah imagery to talk about relationships and the breakups thereof. And then, halfway through the song, Squire takes over and leads the rest of the players through a four minute guitar outro. The album and this song was the template for the psych rock and acid house fusion that was the baggy/Madchester scene.

Almost twenty years later, Jon Lawler decided he needed a creative change from his full-time gig as frontman for The Fratellis. Thus, he formed a side-project with vocalist/keyboard player Lou Hickey called Codeine Velvet Club and put out one self-titled album of retro sixties leaning indie pop before breaking up a couple years later. There was a bonus track on that one album and it was a lounge-flavoured cover of The Stone Roses’ “I am the resurrection” that we never knew we needed.

Where The Stone Roses are still very much revered 30 years later around the world, I feel that Codeine Velvet Club (and possibly The Fratellis) are largely forgotten or ignored outside of England only ten years later. And yet, I do love both versions of this song. I mean, you can’t touch the original for its sheer majesty and near perfection but the gall and cheek of the cover make it a worthwhile go as well.

How do you improve upon a perfect song? More horns and Mike Flowers!

(Haha. Sorry.)

Enjoy.

The cover:

The original:

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

100 best covers: #79 Mumford And Sons “The boxer”

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Here’s one that might incite comments. Or maybe it’ll just incite vitriol. I usually finish these posts with the question of which you prefer, the cover or the original, but I’m pretty I sure I know the answer to this one already.

Mumford and Sons brought back the banjo in a big way in the late 2000s. It feels like the centre around which their platinum-selling debut album, “Sigh no more”, crowded, but really, they used a lot of non-traditional rock instruments to build their sound. I really liked the debut when I first heard it (still do, really) and because I don’t often listen to commercial radio, didn’t realize that it made them a household name until I saw a part of their set at Osheaga in 2013. Already by this time, though, the typical backlash that accompanies a meteoric rise had begun to set in. There really is a lot of hate out there for them. I’m not sure I completely understand it. However, I will say that with each successive album I’ve become more and more ambivalent, especially after they dispensed with their trademark sound on their third record and started to head down the vanilla pop road, hot on the trails of Coldplay.

They covered Simon & Garfunkel’s classic folk pop tune, “The boxer”, just before they remade themselves, and released it as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of their 2012 sophomore release, “Babel”. This is a tune I have known and loved since high school and can remember singing the words along with my classmates on the bus trip back from a particular weekend winter retreat. Though Simon & Garfunkel were usually on the quieter side of folk, this was a jauntier number and when I saw that Mumford had covered it, I thought I would enjoy it even before I had heard it.

The instrumentation is different but the feel is very much in the same vein, the banjo, resonator guitar, and even Marcus Mumford’s vocals lending the tune some uplifting sadness. And it is just as easy to sing along with on that “la la lie” chorus.

So though I won’t bother asking the question, I will say that at least Paul Simon must have approved of this cover, given that he appeared on it, along with resonator guitar legend Jerry Douglas.

The cover:

The original:

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