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The Covers Album

Monday, March 08, 2010

When word came that the new Peter Gabriel album would be a collection of covers, that made news throughout the music world.  From Bowie to Arcade Fire, the set list is full of surprises.  The fact that there would be no rock band in the usual sense, but rather an orchestra backing up his vocals, almost became an afterthought. 

Then Renee Fleming, the soprano known to her legions of fans as “The Voice,” announced that she too would be doing an album of indie rock covers, and suddenly it seemed like everyone must be doing it.  Nada Surf’s forthcoming album is a covers disc.  Cat Power has done it twice. 

But I feel obliged to point out that the covers album is not a new phenomenon.  David Bowie’s Pin Ups, a covers album devoted to English rock songs of the 60s, came out in 1973 - to largely scathing reviews, by the way, though now more people know Bowie’s versions of most of these songs than the originals.  

What is the attraction of the covers album?  For the artist, it’s a chance to do a whole set of songs you love.  But as the Pin Ups reviews show, you always risk offending fans of the originals.  For us listeners, it’s also a double-edged sword.  I would rather hear Peter Gabriel do a new set of Peter Gabriel songs than hear his renditions of other people’s work.  On the other hand, the covers album is a rare glimpse behind the curtain, showing the artist’s own musical tastes and influences.  In a funny way, it almost make me think I know Peter Gabriel a bit better.  

Tell us: Are cover albums a good concept?  Or a cop out?


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Comments [4]

Sheila from New York

I'm so glad Chris mentioned Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "Kicking Against the Pricks" !
It is truly a brilliant album...they really make the songs their own.
And I think most are improvements on the originals.

Mar. 26 2010 10:43 PM
Vicki Barfoot from Australia

I feel the need to make a correction, Pinups was an album of Bowies favourite songs from the sixties. Not all were English, Friday On My Mind was by an Australian band called The Easybeats.
Covers are like anything else, some are good and some are bad.

Mar. 09 2010 01:27 AM
Hillel Dolgenas

What I found most interesting listening to the show today was when one listener called in to say that listening to Bette Midler's version of "Twisted" led her later on to discover Joni Mitchell's version which the caller labeled the "orignal". I revere Joni Mitchell but the actual "original" in question is Annie Ross of Lamberts, Hendricks and Ross who wrote the tune back in 1952.

Mar. 08 2010 05:25 PM
Stephanie Theodore from New York

If you haven't heard Paul Anka's covers of the Cure's 'Lovecats' and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", you haven't lived. His album "Rock Swings" is great.

also, the Gourds covering Snoop&Dre's 'Gin and Juice' rules.

Mar. 08 2010 02:40 PM

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