A cover song is like a Valentine that one band will give another. An “I choo-choo-choose you,” if you will, to the artist of their choice. Think of it this way, if you were in a band, would you cover a song that you didn’t like? Probably not. I like a good cover, especially at a live show. There’s just something about watching a band enthusiastically play one; they instantly revert back to being just a huge fan. As a recording, it comes down to that band’s particular take on the song. Take Cat Power’s The Covers Record. Her renditions of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “I Found A Reason” are stripped to their essence and they become her own. On The OC Mix 6: Covering Our Tracks, the doomed primetime soap’s latest collection of covers isn’t quite as powerful as Cat Power’s, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make for a pleasant listen.
The primary downfall of the covers on this compilation is that many of them sound too much like their originals. Mates of State do a competent, if slower, take on Phantom Planet’s (and The OC theme song) “California.” Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel harmonize beautifully as they always do, but partway through I felt like I would rather be hearing the original. Similarly, Goldspot’s cover of Modest Mouse’s “Float On” is perfectly fine but also completely devoid of the quirks that made it singularly Modest Mouse. Listening to it, I realized that “Float On” isn’t the same with out Isaac Brock’s off-kilter voice.
Looking at the track list, I saw that Tally Hall did The Killers’ “Smile Like You Mean It.” I sort of rolled my eyes, since that is perhaps my least favorite Killers song. Surprisingly, I ended up liking Tally Hall’s version much more than The Killers’. The pretense and the grandiose ideas with which The Killers infused that mediocre song is exactly what made me dislike it. Tally Hall’s version is more stripped down, with a few DNTEL-esque flourishes. Their version turns the song into a much more easygoing pop song.
Possibly my most anticipated track on this album is the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant,” covered by Lady Sovereign. It seems fitting to have the pint-sized Lady Sovereign cover the rowdy Sex Pistols’ track and she does a pretty great job with it. She snarls and sneers just as Johnny Rotten did and she preserves the snotty behavior of the band. Yet the two best tracks on the album come from what I think are the two best bands on the album: Rogue Wave and Band of Horses. Band of Horses’ languid take of The New Year’s “End’s Not Near” is a perfect fit. Admittedly, I was not terribly familiar with The New Year, but I found myself really enjoying Band of Horses’ version and perhaps I’ll be picking up an album by The New Year soon. The standout track is really Rogue Wave’s cover of the Pixies’ “Debaser.” Sounding nothing like Frank Black’s scream, Zach Rogue and co. turn the song into a sun-drenched pop song, taking a grand cue from Brian Wilson. The band took a bit of a risk to record the song and to make it sound nothing like the original, but it’s the difference that makes the song stand out in the first place. Nearly every other song on this compilation sounds so similar to the original that you might as well be listening to those versions in the first place.
With a compilation of covers, I felt that there was a lot of potential to make a really good one. Instead, many of the bands played it pretty safe and didn’t stray too far from their sources. That’s not to say that their covers were bad, just conservative. Perhaps this is why covers work best in a concert situation. While the band’s love of a certain song ends up coming across exciting and surprising live, they can’t always capture the same magic on a recording.
Various Artists – Garden State
Various Artists – I Am Sam
Cat Power – The Covers Record