Monday, June 1, 2009

Short Posts and Bad Cover Versions

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a bar on a Monday with some friends visiting from St John's, and there was a mediocre bar band playing cover versions of our favourite songs from the 1990s and early 2000s. I think they took their inconsequential musical production very seriously, if only because of the emotional intensity of the songs they played, particularly the classic Radiohead and good Coldplay (in contrast to the shit Coldplay).

I just listened to "Karma Police," which was the first song in the set these dedicated cover artists played, and I noticed some key differences between their version and the original, which made the original quite a lot better, unsurprisingly. The point is that it only takes a few subtle differences to turn a striking song into a far schmaltzier version. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, because I could forgive the singer for not quite having Thom Yorke's voice. That would just be unrealistic.

The cover band played the piano part with a ton of sustain on the notes, blurring them all together. If you listen to the video I linked above, each of the piano notes in the first half of the song have no sustain at all, making each one distinct, and isolated from each other in the melody. It emphasizes the percussive quality of the song, where the cover version I heard in the bar made the song sound mushy. The original Radiohead communicated a feeling of alienation in the song, which was the whole aesthetic point of Ok Computer. It's fascinating that such a subtle change could alter an artwork so completely.

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