How does one judge a cover differently from an original?
Some covers take a song and find a new heart that wasn’t present in the original. For example, Janis Joplin’s cover of “Me and Bobby McGee”. Most, however, are in some sort of dialog with the original — reinterpreting the song, while paying tribute to the success of the original.
How exactly that works is a tricky thing, and I have an example on which I would invite you to weigh in.
I have lately been enjoying listening to Nouvelle Vague (“New Wave”), a group that covers, mostly, post-punk classics set to a bossa nova arrangement. The idea sounds too clever by half, and it’s clearly derivative, but it works because the new arrangements are clever and well executess and pay sincere tribute to the originals.
Part of pleasure of listening to a Nouvelle Vague is, like a good compilation, it invites you to revisit the originals, and to put them in a different context and different sides of the music. As I said, in my post about evaluating songs, it makes me happy that someone did it.
It is interesting, however to think about the relationship to the original songs. Here are two examples, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” originally by Joy Division and “Guns of Brixton” originally by the Clash.
I like the second one better as a song, and as a performance, but I feel like the former is a better cover. I feel like the version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” gets to heart of the song in way that “The Guns of Brixton” doesn’t. The second cover is clever, and clearly respectful of the original, but I feel like, in some way, it avoids really engaging the original — it just uses it as a device.
I can’t articulate my feeling any more than that, and I’d be really curious for any thoughts, either if you disagree, or if you agree and have specific elements that you would highlight.
Update: I noticed, for whatever reason that I’m getting a lot of downloads the the Joy Division song. I assume that means some external site has linked to me as a source of that .mp3, so I just made a minor change to the file name.