Wednesday, 24 June 2009

How not to make a cover version

I had a conversation a few weeks back about how cover versions which add something to a song or completely re-interpret it can become interesting in their own right, or even more popular than the original. Blank and Jones' version of Kosheen's "Catch" is not one of them. (Hear it on Youtube, here). I heard it a few months ago, possibly in the gym where musical taste often takes second place to BPM in the criteria for choosing background music, and thought it was pretty poor. However, realising that it was Blank and Jones, who I had thought were reasonably decent musicians, was a bit of a shock. Surely they would have higher standards than this? Their arrangement is a bit mediocre and the vocalist they've used is even less exciting. Unless the mood of the song is going to be heavily changed, you can't take a song performed by a powerful vocalist like Sian Evans and give it to a singer with no punch who sounds so bored she may as well be reading the weather forecast*.

A better song by Blank & Jones is "Miracle Cure", which they did with New Order's Bernard Sumner. In that song, they overproduce Sumner's vocals a bit but this works for the song and with his voice. The fact that he has an interesting, if inconsistent voice probably helps here, as a lot of dance tracks take female singers whose voices might stand out in some situations but then layer on the compression and pitch correction so heavily that any life they may have had gets sucked out of them. Just sounding dreamy is not good enough. I can't easily remember too many perpetrators of this because the singers are so forgettable, but if pressed to think of an example I would mention the Blank & Jones remix of Delerium and Jael's "Lost and Found", in which Jael sounds pretty flat. Even distinctive singers like Kirsty Hawkshaw† aren't immune from being overproduced on occasion. In a later entry I will list some of my favourite vocal parts in dance music, with particular emphasis on how the singing contributes to the song rather than serving a a nice bit of fluff.

*I think I might have taken this line from an episode of Inspector Morse.
† Who appears on so many songs using exactly the same vocal style. Maybe the musicians in question just ask her for this, which seems reasonable given her most well known songs — probably "Dreaming" with BT and "Running down the way up" with BT and Hybrid if I had to guess which ones — are like that, but still, I'm sure she can do more.

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