Hello all. In the absence of any major news from R.E.M. HQ (aside from a heads-up on Michael's performance at the Tibet House Benefit in March with Patti Smith), I've decided to do a small feature on R.E.M. covers by bands and artists. God knows there's a lot of them, and some are... well, not great. Appalling, even. So let's get our list started with what is possibly the worst rendition of an R.E.M. classic ever to be created:
1. Courtney Love's (Don't Go Back to) Rockville:
I've never heard Courtney Love, nor have I heard her band Hole, but after listening to this meagre snippet I know I never will, either. This beautiful, melodic country classic from Reckoning transforms itself into a sleazy, atonal hybrid when Love 'sings' it. I use that term loosely - her voice is unemotional and bland, and her grasp of tuning slips slowly away as she eventually decides she doesn't care anymore. Meanwhile, her band have other ideas, noodling away in the background and subconsciously telling Courtney to shut up and get on with the next number. I'm not sure if I would even call this a cover, but as it's so bad I feel it deserves inclusion.
2. Furthermore's Fall On Me:
No video for this one. To hear it, click the play button just below the article. The song starts off promisingly, with a groovy woodblock rhythm and an a capella from the female lead singer. Cue some interesting chords in the background, and some spooky backing vocals. Unfortunately, that's all there is. An incessant drum loop, with no build up of volume or instrumentation. I expected at least a piano to come in, to give the track at least a little flavour... but alas, it seems Furthermore are unable to provide the energy needed to spruce up what is a lifeless cover. Where's Mike Mills when you need him?
During my research, I came across an article similar to the one I am writing now, by Darren Barefoot. You can find it here. I can't say I agree with all his opinions, but it's an interesting read.
3. The Walkmen's Driver 8:
To play, click the picture below the song title. This is one I'm still undecided on. In comparison to the others above on this page, this is great (although it's not exactly a photo finish), but I can't really make my mind up on this. The intro is awesome, with a fruity organ and rumbling drums that imitate the train that the song's lyrics allude to. My only qualms are the singer's nasal voice, the lack of vocal harmonies which I feel gave the original a new dimension, and the fact that it suffers from the same problem as Furthermore's cover - it just doesn't build up much. At the end of each verse, the band crescendos with drum rolls a-plenty, and then... it drops back down again. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I'd like to have seen a little more. Still, the inclusion of a video is always fun.
Now that you've heard three not-so-good covers (with the possible exception of The Walkmen, depending on your tastes), I think it's time to move on from our bland main course to a much sweeter dessert. This is one often performed on live tours:
4. The Editors' Orange Crush:
The beginning is odd. On my first listen, I just expected this to be the style of the whole track. A slow, suspended piano and a strange-sounding singer initially put me off, and I just gave up on it. Then I listened for a few more seconds, and then my ears were greeted with the punchy beats and frankly weird vocals of The Editors as they rocked out on Green's epic track. The tremoloed guitars are a nice touch, and the band don't stray too far from the original composition. I just wish somebody had the courage to go up to that high G sharp! Thankfully, the live version with We Are Scientists gives you that soaring vocal line. And now for one that I discovered all by myself:
5. Calexico and Darius Rucker's I Believe:
Out of all the ones on this page, this has to be my favourite, despite the video's average quality. Rucker's country voice is perfect for this track, giving it the 'down South' flair that Michael Stipe had on Life's Rich Pageant. What I think makes it so unique is Darius' bassy-sounding vocal, which in my opinion really brings to life the character portrayed on this song - that old, Southern country gentlemen, who believes "in coyotes, and time as an abstract". The harmonies are sweet, the music is faithful and Darius fits his part like a hand does a well-worn glove.
And there we have it, five R.E.M. covers that'll either melt your heart or melt your brain. I certainly hope it's the former, but you can never be sure, especially with Courtney Love's abysmal cover still festering in my head hours after I listened to her. Darren Barefoot, I think, is overly harsh in his analysis, as Great Big Sea's It's the End of the World cover is rather enjoyable, as is the 10,000 Maniacs version of Rockville. It really does seem to be a matter of opinion. I think I'll leave you with just one more:
Make of it what you may - that's the beauty of a cover.