Monday, 4 March 2019

2019 Contenders: How To Do A Covers Album

The news that Morrissey is about to release a covers album will no doubt be greeted with the usual calls for his public hanging from his former fanclub, and I have nothing to say about that anymore. I admire your principles if you can turn your back on the music because of the man's politics - you are far more righteous than I am. Yes, he's a dick, but the guy can still belt out a tune, and the sound of him covering one of my favourite Roy Orbison songs still makes my knees go weak...

What I've come to realise over the last few months - particularly since hearing The Evil One's tubthumping live cover of Lynn Anderson's Rose Garden - is that while the pinnacle of his songwriting days may well have passed, as a performer he's now become across between Frank and Elvis. Surely it can't be long before his Vegas residency, particular now he's gone down a storm at The Grand Ol' Opry, of all places? He's even taken to wearing a sparkly, paunch-filled jump suit. I'd start worrying that his next career move might be to drop dead on the toilet with a burger in his hand... but I guess that's still pretty unlikely.

The Dark Lord isn't the first popular musician on my shelves to release a covers album this year though. I've already spent a fair bit of time listening to Weezer's Teal album and Varshons 2 by The Lemonheads over the last few weeks... and though both bands are firm favourites in this house, Evan won this particular battle hands down.

The covers album is an easy win for bands who want to keep paying the rent without having to go to the effort of writing new songs these days. Yes, you lose out on the publishing money, but covers are more likely to get you radio play or youtube hits and keep your name in the public ear. The success of Weezer's recent throwaway cover of Africa by Toto led them to record a whole album of pop classics including Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), Mr. Blue Sky, Paranoid and Stand By Me - but the sheer ubiquity of these particular choices, coupled with the fact that Weezer take absolutely no risks with the originals - means the result sounds like a wedding band running through requests from the dancefloor. It's not an album I'll go back to again and again.

On the other hand, Varshons 2 by the Lemonheads definitely invites return visits. I only immediately knew four of the songs here, though I did recognise a few more old faces once I stepped in the door. The two strongest tunes on here are Nick Cave's titanic Straight To You and John Prine's peerless Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, but Evan makes them his own. Beyond that there's some really eclectic choices including Round Here by contemporary country stars Florida Georgia Line (a track which benefits from the Lemonheads stripped-back approach), TAQN (Take A Quaalaude Now) by Los Angeles punks The Eyes, and Paul Westerberg's Things. I'm still trying to work out what my favourite track is: currently I'm torn between the breezy 70s pop of NRBQ's Magnet and Old Man Blank, originally by The Bevis Frond... in which Evan almost sounds like the much-loathed gentleman at the top of the page. Which works for me.

I don't feel too bad about calling the Lemonheads the winners in this particular race though - it's kind of like the Tortoise vs. the Hare. Evan Dando is famously the laziest man in pop: we wait 10 years for a new Lemonheads record and all he can manage is another bunch of covers. Rivers Cuomo, on the other hand, has already released his second Weezer album this year (the much anticipated Black Album - more on that later) with two more threatened. Evan clearly has more time to spend listening to his record collection and selecting gems... Rivers probably just picked up a couple of old Now album and thought, "yeah, they'll do".


  1. At first, I felt sorry for that bloke in the photo at the top of the page cos I thought he was in a wheelchair. Then I realised it was a supermarket trolley so I decided to hate him - and not just because he still likes wosname.

    1. There's an interesting sociological point being made here... if only I was smart enough to work out what it is.

  2. I'm also waiting for someone to comment that Morrissey's choice of It's Over seems an appropriate choice at this point in his career (at least as far as his UK audience is concerned).

  3. Some great links here and it's going to take me a while to get through them all but I do feel sorry for you middle-aged men who are now faced with the Dilemma of the Dark Lord. He still has the pipes though and that was a great version of Rose Garden at the Grand Ole Oprey (although I still prefer Lynn Anderson's original).

    Love the Take On Me Clip - Always loved that song and although a wedding band kind of version, still nice to hear it being covered. Got a lot of those '80s touches just right in the video clip (although sadly my own house still has many of them!).


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