A couple of days ago Paul Anka was on NPR promoting his new CD of
lounge versions of 1990s alt-rock hits. This isn't really a new idea:
Grunge Lite and Lounge Against the Machine have been
kicking around in discount bins for years, and old-timers like Pat
Boone and Johnny Cash have also beaten Anka to the punch. I've heard
multiple lounge versions of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," multiple lounge
versions of "Head Like a Hole," and I myself do a cover of Courtney
Love's "Teenage Whore" as performed by Elvis Presley.
But the alt-rock song I have heard the most lounge versions of is the
one NPR used to play out Paul Anka: "Wonderwall" by Oasis. Covering
this song in a lounge style seems to me to be a classic case of
missing the point. I can think of a couple of good reasons to cover
a song. One is that you think that the song was well written but
poorly performed, and that you can perform it better. Another is
that you think the song was fine as originally performed, but you want
to do something different with it. This can be as minor as my band's
cover of Radiohead's "Creep," which switches the quiet and loud parts,
or a major reworking such as when Shonen Knife took the Carpenters'
treacly, countrified "Top of the World" and joyously rocked the hell
out of it. Now here's the thing. I contend that what makes
"Wonderwall" an interesting song is that it sounds like a cover
already. It sounds like Oasis took a schmaltzy ballad from 1960
or thereabouts and gave it an edge by having Liam Gallagher deliver the
vocals in an even more brittle, sullen, over-enunciated snarl than usual,
wholly bereft of the tenderness the rest of the song suggests should be
there. It's the tension between disparate elements that makes a lounge
cover of something like "Rape Me" catch one's ear — a velvety-smooth
delivery of jagged content. But a lounge version of "Wonderwall"
doesn't do that. It takes the contrasts that already lie at the heart
of the record and removes them, a pointless exercise indeed.
Paul Anka should have stuck to
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