Covers are an interesting business. Superficially, they are a tribute to an artist and their work. The performer expresses open adoration, but no cover is worth the exertion if the performer does not leave their artistic fingerprint. A great cover combines both recreation and vision. The best become independently acclaimed pieces in their own right. You don’t love The Iron Maidens because they are copying Dickinson and Harris. You love them because they are adding to beloved favourites.
2018 saw some pretty incredible covers bloom. From reorienting Tool to a brass band to adapting the year’s biggest Korean pop hit to highly respectable heavy metal standards, covers spanned the sonic spectrum in reckless and unexpected ways.
The Pot (Tool cover) – Brass Against: A collective of artists intending to question and disrupt political and social complacency, Brass Against initially became noteworthy for their Rage Against The Machine covers. With good reason too, since very little on the internet matches their percussion game.
Right in two (Tool cover) – Beard of Harmony ft. Yann Phayphet: Two guitars and an upright bass ferment one of Tool’s most powerfully crafted pieces into a pared down, sparse, almost minimal avatar. Historically, Tool is known for excessive soundcrafting that never fails to bewilder a listener. To transplant that sensibility into a few strings and a set of brooding vocals is a feat of artistic engineering worthy of repeated applause.
Taking trumpets, saxophones and stormbringer drums to the prog-psychedelic abundance of Tool turned out exactly as vision-shifting as it sounds. Sophia Urista’s voice is the clarion call to revolution, and she could rouse entire parades and rallies to protest hypocrisy and deception with Maynard James Keenan’s gut-wrenching, bone-clawing lyricism. The track is a wonder, compelling adrenaline-laced spasms driven by righteous rage.
Fake Lover (BTS cover) – Lies Behind Your Eyes: The biggest boyband on the planet released one of the biggest songs on the planet in 2018. And it was so good that a Korean pop group managed to get prime spots on Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, America’s Got Talent even the American Music Awards (first K-pop band to appear on any of those shows). BTS leaves in their wake millions of screaming fans, intense visual appeal and pop-rap that never fails to go full earworm.
All that deconstructed and regrafted with a few choice shreds, a sinewed drumline and competent vocal accompaniments – and you behold a result immune to criticism. Additionally, the thought that K-pop can go metal gives us faith for all kinds of harmonious unity, even that of pineapple and pizza.
Heart Shaped Box (Nirvana cover) – Ramin Djawadi: The eerie psychographics of Westworld emerge from depictions of questionable humanity. Most often, that which appears human is the opposite, and yet all too familiar. The human perpetrates immense brutality, and then claim superiority on the virtue of their ostensible “humanity”. That which is least human is most oppressed, and most deserving of the humanity it is denied.
An orchestral rendition of Nirvana’s gashing classic reflects this predilection towards the uncanny. Composer Djawadi sandpapers the growl of grunge, and translates the minor third riff into voiceless exhilaration. Cobain’s characteristic frenzy is not lost, and the whole things builds as quickly as it falls, terminating with the quiet beauty of lifeless peace.
Stay (Rihanna cover) – Cat Power: I always preferred the Thirty Seconds to Mars cover to the original, but Jared Leto and his lot have nothing on Power’s unassuming resonance. While the original is upfront about it’s passive-aggressive and dysfunctional distress, the cover understates the need and builds compulsion. Seduction lies in the fact that Power sings it as a curious exploration of her own need. She sings for no one as ardently as she does for herself.