Tag Archives: Tom Petty

MALE by Natalie Imbruglia 

There’s no non-creepy way to admit this, but I find it sexy when a female artist covers a song written by a male and doesn’t change any of the gender stuff in the lyrics (a love song about a woman staying about a woman and the like). Conversely, I think it’s pretty cool when a male singer does the same thing and doesn’t change the lyrics, which is rarer, but always super-ballsy. I bring this weird quirk about myself up because I specifically sought out Natalie Imbruglia’s cover album MALE because the concept behind it was that she would be covering songs written exclusively by men/male-dominated bands. Sadly, upon listening to the album, I discovered that Imbruglia swapped all the gender-specific lyrics. So, the Zac Brown Band song “Goodbye In Her Eyes” becomes “Goodbye In His Eyes.” At first, this bummed me out, but as I listened to MALE more, I forgot all about my weird hang-up/fetish and found myself enjoying the shit out of this record.

male

Normally cover songs don’t do it for me, usually because the originals are always better. The times that cover songs work are when something dramatic is done to change the way the song is presented. Except for one track (which I’ll get to in a moment), none of the songs on MALE are better than the original versions. The songs are slower, more acoustic versions of the originals, sung by a woman, but remain very faithful to the original artists. And yet, I found myself utterly charmed by Imbruglia’s covers. Part of what makes MALE such a treat, besides Imbruglia’s talent as a vocalist, are the diverse choice of songs. The songs run the gambit from the aforementioned Zac Brown Band (country) to Death Cab For Cutie (modern Indie Rock) to The Cure (classic goth rock). Some of the artists are no-brainers, like Neil Young and Cat Stevens, however, there’s enough oddball song choices to spice MALE up and keep it from becoming too cliche. Examples of song choices that surprised me:  a twinkling twee-like cover of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” Damien Rice’s “Cannonball,” Tom Petty’s “The Waiting,” and a cover of Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush.”

That last track is the one song on MALE that outdoes the original. I went back and listened to “Instant Crush” on Daft Punk’s 2013 album RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES. The song, sung by Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas, is a great track but Imbruglia’s version is vastly superior. For starters, the lyrics are ineligible. The famously mush-mouthed Strokes singer isn’t done any favors by the Daft Punk production which distorts (autotunes?) his vocals all to hell. And stripping the song down into an acoustic number adds a serious amount of weight/emotionality to the song.  That this song is the lead single of the album isn’t surprising, the quality of Imbruglia’s “Instant Crush” cover is pretty fantastic. “Instant Crush” opens the album, which probably isn’t the best idea in the world because the rest of the songs don’t measure up to its high-quality.

Don’t get me wrong, MALE is a great album as far as cover records go, but at the end of the day, it’s a curiosity. The concept behind the album, covering songs written by men, doesn’t break any new ground and most of the songs aren’t really about being men, per say. So the concept doesn’t hold as much water has I’d like, and the songs aren’t better than the originals (for the most part), so why am I writing about MALE? The album came out nearly two years ago and yet I still find myself listening to it. It’s a great last song of the night album, something I can put on when my kid is winding down to go to bed. Also, Imbruglia does have a beautiful voice, and her delicate touch adds a vulnerability to already heartbreaking songs like Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and the Iron & Wine track “Naked As We Came.”

Take a moment to check-out the “Instant Crush” cover, and if you dig that, check out the rest of MALE. I think if you go in with guarded expectations you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it is.

 

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Classic Albums Revisited: MR. TAMBOURINE MAN

I feel bad, but I’m afraid there is no way to discuss The Byrds–especially early Byrds–without talking about Bob Dylan. I just don’t think it can be done. So, before I get into the Dylan-ness of this record, let me talk about The Byrds themselves as a band. The Byrds formed in 1964 in sunny California. At that time the British Invasion was in full swing. What made The Byrds so interesting is that they combined the British rock sound with American folk music. In doing so, they pretty much paved the way for what we consider modern folk music–Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Neil Young (along with pretty much all the singer-songwriter types from the 1970s “folk boom”) owe The Byrds a huge debt. At the same time, the band was pretty influential on the rock scene as well, without The Byrds there would be no Tom Petty.

Byrds with a fisheye.

What’s so interesting about The Byrd (among other things) were all the various changes they made throughout their short existence (going from the folk-rock, electric Dylan covers to “Eight Miles High” THE first psychedelic rock song)  and the impact those changes had on a borad spectrum of artists.

The secret to their success was  their harmonies (of course) and Bob Dylan. The band’s first commercial hit was a cover of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Dylan is a super-gifted songwriter, but unfortunately sounds exactly like a Muppet. This “Muppet-sound” tends to turn off a lot of people and doesn’t always best serve the song.  I’m a huge Dylan fan, don’t get me wrong, I love his croak but I know that I am in the minority.  Anyway,  beyond  having a better, more commercially palatable vocal arrangement, The Byrds also had a knack for interpreting Dylan’s songs, NOT just covering them. I believe there is a difference. A “cover” is just that, one artist playing another’s song–usually note-for-note.  The Byrds didn’t do this; instead they took a great fucking song, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and made it electric (with shiny, bouncy electric tones). They added layers of harmony. Listen to Dylan’s version and The Byrds, one right after the other…and it’s seems like barely the same song. Both are good (some will always prefer the author’s version because it’s the most “pure” or whatever, me I’ve out-grown such pretension) and both have the same level of merit–a sure sign that you’ve got a good, artistically executed interpretation on your hands.

With the success of “Mr. Tambourine Man” came an album–MR. TAMBOURINE MAN, this seems to me to be more of a  “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” mentality cooked up by some record label suits but I could be wrong.   Besides the title track, the band also covers Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident,” “All I Really Want To Do,” and “Chimes of Freedom.” There are other notable, non-Dylan covers on MR. TAMBOURINE MAN include “We’ll Meet Again” (remember that song? It was used ironically at the end of the Peter Seller’s comedy/farce DR. STRANGELOVE) and “The Bells of Rhymney.”

But it’s the Dylan covers that really wow me,  they’re all brilliant. I especially love “All I Really Want To Do,” a track the band injects with a much needed dose of levity. Dylan’s version is so damn bare-bones, and Dylan’s yodel-wail is a little bit…much (almost to the point of self-parody). The Byrds give a more energetic version. Dylan’s midnight-dark satire of a failing marriage goes down much smoother with The Byrds (hell, it almost sounds like a love song).

What surprised me most about MR. TAMBOURINE MAN was how strong the band’s original compositions are. Gene Clark’s “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” is my personal favorite track–of the whole record (Dylan covers included). The band’s songwriting, while still in it’s early stages, was strong enough to compete with such a legendary song-smith. “You Won’t Have To Cry” and “It’s No Use” are likewise able to hold their own with Dylan’s songs.  Though MR. TAMBOURINE MAN has only hints of the work the band’s later (some might argue greater) work, I find this record to be thoroughly enjoyable and uncluttered with the excess of the later, “trippier” recordings. Unlike a lot of bands from this period, work The Byrds did on this album stands the test of time.

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GIRL TALK & The Art of Sampling

So lately I’ve been listening to Girl Talk’s 2008 album FEED THE ANIMALS.  I know, I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve been busy.

For those unfamiliar, Girl Talk is really one a musician named musician Gregg Gillis who uses unauthorized samples.   Of course, that’s putting it lightly–Girl Talk’s music is damn-near 100% samples.  Now, I love a good mash-up as much as the next guy.  The thing is…there aren’t very many good mash-ups.  A mash-up seems like a really easy thing to create, song 1 + song 2 and you’re done.  But it’s more complicated than that, it takes a lot of time and effort to create a mash-up.  And it takes probably ten times longer than that just to come up with good/interesting song pairings. So understand, I’m not coming from a place where I think Girl Talk creating entire albums of mash-ups is easy or simple.  Gillis has talent, that much is apparent when you listen to FEED THE ANIMALS.  The songs swirls together, blending so seamlessly you literally need a scoresheet to keep track of what exactly you’re hearing.  Luckily there are people who have made such a scoresheet.

Why does Girl Talk hate that man’s lawn?

So if it sounds awesome and it’s not super-simple/requires some consideration what’s my problem? Why can’t I just let go and enjoy?

I don’t think it’s the fact that FEED THE ANIMALS is probably the most illegal record I’ve ever heard.  True, I think it sucks that he didn’t pay the respective copyright holders a dime in order to sample their music, I don’t really blame him.  I mean, for one thing, the number of samples is staggering.  A glance at one of the charts that detail the samples created by Girl Talk fans reveal a massive amount of samples–some of which are only a few notes others complete hooks or riffs.  But let’s pretend the guy had an unlimited supply of money and had asked for permission–many of the artists sampled on FEED THE ANIMALS probably would have said no. Do you think Ace of Base (or their copyright holders) want to be associated with DJ Assault’s song “Ass and Tities”? I don’t think so.  FEED THE ANIMALS features samples from several artists that don’t want to play in the digital age, like AC/DC, who don’t distribute their music in very many digital venues outside of iTunes (and they do that begrudgingly).  It also features Michael Jackson.  Do you think the Michael Jackson estate would let someone mash-up and mangle his music .  Rappers sample all the time, but what Girl Talk does is sampling taken to the next level. Artists that might not be unfavorable to a more traditional sampling (like Jimmy Page appearing on Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me”)  might not like Girl Talk’s 2% usage of a song.  There’s glory in having your stomping rock riff sampled or you chorus used, there is no glory in a few fleeting seconds.

I know that music is a business and that for the right price anyone will sell anything, but I can’t see FEED THE ANIMALS existing as a legal product.  But is it the illegality that’s holding me back from fully enjoying FEED THE ANIMALS?  I don’t think so.  I think ultimately Girl Talk is the harbinger of terrible things.  I recognize that what Gillis does is pretty awesome, but what he’s done is basically stand on the shoulders of giants.  As good as “Give Me A Beat” is, it’s nowhere near as creative as Tom Petty’s “American Girl” or Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” hell it’s not even as creative as Brittany Spear’s “Gimme More” (all three of which are sampled in “Give Me A Beat”).  Taking something from nothing is infinitely greater than building on an existing  foundation (especially if that foundation includes Brittany Spears).  When a rapper samples he’s still written his verses if he hasn’t also created his beats.  What does Girl Talk create? It creates a julienne-cut jukebox.

FEED THE ANIMALS is a work of art and Gillis’ efforts is to be admired, but I can’t help but worry about the next step.  I can’t help but worry about a generation of kids that grow up listening to albums like FEED THE ANIMALS.  Will they bother to learn how to play instruments?  Will they bother with songwriting?  Or will they skip over a few dozen steps and create mash-ups of songs created by samples of other mash-ups.  I feel like Girl Talk is an evolutionary dead-end.  It’s like a platypus,  unique and interesting…so long as we still have other animals.

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