Most covers don’t do much for me. There’s always an attempt to bring something new to a song that’s so well loved in it’s original form and most of them fall apart. I already spent several minutes of my day listening to POP ECT’s cover of The Beach Boys classic, “God Only Knows” and it didn’t work at all for me. It sounded like the group had some spare time on their hands, so why not? And it’s that kind of attitude, especially about cover songs, that really bothers me. If something is already proven great, and you don’t have anything particularly interesting to bring to the song, then just leave it alone.
There’s a point where covers get really tricky. And that’s when the artist is covering their own material. Sting released an entire record like this titled Symphonicities in 2010 where he found a way to butcher his own songs by turning all of them into classical music. Some of these tracks are decent, but there’s some terrible moments here (“Roxanne“, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic“). Sting’s career has been an interesting one, and he’s made plenty of questionable choices over the years, but Symphonicities sounds like a guy who’s run out of ideas.
Peter Gabriel has done this as well with his record, New Blood, but there’s something about how obviously passionate Gabriel is here that puts his record above Sting’s. New Blood is filled some very great string work that can be really moving. Gabriel’s reinvention of his own work sounded very fresh to me, and while I wasn’t a fan of the entire thing, there were plenty of moments that that work in a very powerful way. Oddly enough, when Gabriel used this technique to cover other people’s songs on Scratch My Back many of the songs didn’t work with Gabriel sounding too emotive.
Prince has suddenly released a cover of his song, “Let’s Go Crazy” from his classic 1984 record, Purple Rain. The original track was filled with synths that gave it a strong dance feel. But this new version destroys whatever was left from the original for a blues rock sound. It’s shocking how much Prince still sounds great on vocals, I can’t even tell that he’s aged. There’s even a moment on this reinvention of “Let’s Go Crazy” that puts in a taste of Edger Winter’s “Frankenstein”, and it sounds very natural tossed in the mix. This version sounds fantastic, and it makes me hopeful that Prince will give us some more music in the near future.
It’s interesting to see these artists reinterpret their own work, but I don’t exactly understand why they do it. Did they have a problem with the original, do they feel like the song has a life beyond what was originally released? I wish I could sit here and give all these guys applause of being adventurous and taking tracks that are already part of their body of work and redoing them, giving them a fresh take. But I can’t help but notice that some of these are sloppy, and kind of cheesy. But if anyone is going to justify a song, shouldn’t it be the artists that originally did the songs in the first place? These artists have more of a right to cover their tracks than anyone else, so why not? But I can also see how doing this might be nothing but a run for some money.