Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jedward and upward

Australia has been generally  unaware of the musical stylings of the Irish twins "Jedward". Those that follow Eurovision might recognise them as the rather impressive water feature from this year’s contest.

would make a addition to a modern garden.I myself became aware of them a while ago, through various UK people retweeting some of their more bizarre and koan-like tweets (e.g. “You know what we want? We want to go to the Super Bowel we hear that it's the biggest bowel in the world and we have a lot of Cereal!”). You’re never quite sure if they are taking the piss, are quite daft or are really very deep.

Jedward gained prominence on the UK version of the talent show X-Factor by, like many talent show acts, singing covers. Their first single was a cover. In fact, of the eleven songs on their debut album Planet Jedward, all eleven of them are covers.

All of them.

While I could choose any of these, I have decided to look at their second single: a cover of Blink 182’s All the Small Things.

This song was a huge hit for Blink 182, being their first song to take the number one spot. It was itself the second single from 1999’s Enema of the State which marked a small but significant change of direction for the band. Much like Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, or even Nirvana’s Nevermind, it was musically similar to earlier albums by the band, however was produced with a wider radio audience in mind. The guitars were crisp and clear, the voices and harmonies polished. You could tell it was well rehearsed. There were also a couple of slower, more thoughtful songs. It was, therefore, seen by their fans as something of a sell-out. This was reflected in the clip for this song. The band are seen dressed as members of various 90s boy bands - complete with slow motion wind machine shots and screaming (mainly) girly fans. But if you listen, without watching the clip, it still a 90s California punk-rock song at heart.

So how would a 21st century pop duo interpret this song? Quite simply, they don’t.

Say it ain’t so

Jedward’s cover of All the Small Things is a note for note identical version of the song. The music and arrangement is exactly the same as the original (with the addition of some keyboards). The major difference is in the vocals and that is because Jedward can’t actually sing very well. (Other acts with Jedward’s level of talent would rely heavily on auto-tuning, and it is a testament that, from all available evidence, they don’t.)

This track epitomises the pointless cover. There is no artistic value in it whatsoever. It is purely a money making venture - an easy way to get these twins on the radio and into people heads. Blink 182 (or at the very least Tom DeLonge) would have received some income from the sales and there is some argument that a cover will make people aware of the original artist, but I would be surprised if any Jedward fans would be snatching up Blink’s back catalogue just because of this track.

Having said that, I would love to see an Irish teeny bopper’s face the first time she heard Family Reunion (warning, contains rude words).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Checkmate in Charge

I’m not only obsessed with covers. It’s important that you understand that. I would hate to come across as one dimensional so early in our relationship. I have other obsessions as well.

I love most pop culture, but have always particularly loved television. I think that it is (or at least was) a greatly misunderstood medium. People are all too ready to dismiss it as of little value, and even though in recent years (thanks to shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad) it has got some cred, I think that TV in general, and comedy in particular, is still not seen as “important” in the same way that a film or novel are (despite the fact that there are some truly terrible films, and even worse novels).

Quite a few years ago now, a friend who shares my love of TV suggested we start a band. The band’s name (for reasons which don’t really exist) would be “Knee To Groin: Checkmate”, and we would play all covers. But not just covers of any songs. No, Kneedagroin (as we would no doubt be known) would exclusively play covers of TV Show themes. Imagine it. You go to a pub. There’s a band setting up in the corner. They plug in, say “1 2, 1 2, 1 2” and before you know it they rip into a ball tearing version the the theme from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It was a perfect scenario.

When thinking of songs we would do, one that was at the top of both our lists was this classic from 1984:

It was an incredibly cheesy show, with an incredibly catchy theme song, whose only reason to exist was to keep Scott “Chachi” Baio on our screens, which was reason enough to love it.

There are 2 things, which happened somewhat simultaneously, which ensured that Knee To Groin: Checkmate never saw the light of day. One was that our bass playing friend suggested an even stranger idea for a band (which, in turn, we started) and the second and more compelling reason was that the TV Show Scrubs had basically the same idea at the same time. Their in-show a capella group “The Blanks” performed a few songs, including this version of the above theme.

We agreed that not only had the TV show cover-band idea been “done” but more importantly the definitive cover of the Charles in Charge theme now existed. There was no way we could top this, nor would we want to try.

Sometimes a cover comes along that is quite different in style from the original, and yet shows a reverence and an understanding of where the original is coming from. I will explore this concept further in a later post, but I wanted to show that this sitcom, in paying homage to an earlier one, has achieved that goal where many “real” acts have tried an failed.