I’ve been noticing an annoying “trend” happening the past few months. Artists and labels are starting to re-hash old material and releasing albums of cover songs more and more frequently.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a great cover song at all. An artist who records a cover of a well known song has skipped over the majority of the work – they’ve got a tune that’s already proven to be popular. It’s probably one of the oldest ways an artist or band can get listened to.
I don’t know whether it’s all these “reality” shows (American Idol, The Voice, Rock Star…) or even Glee, but to me, there seems to have been an increasing amount of artists turning to releasing old material rather than writing and producing new stuff!
Covers, Covers Everywhere…
I started becoming more and more aware of cover songs after I introduced the topic of arrangement to my theory classes at the Art Institute a couple of years ago. I took eight versions of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” that included styles such as big band, jazz, industrial synth-pop and prog-metal.
A good cover version of a song, in my opinion, takes the song in a new direction from the original and at the same time keeps some element of the known recording to keep the listener tethered to the familiar.
That’s all well and good, but it’s getting a bit much when every other album being released is a warmed-over walk down memory lane.
Peter Gabriel is one of the icons of my musical influences. I grew up with Sledgehammer and Big Time videos being trumpetted as “breakthroughs in music video-ness”. However, the last two (and supposedly a third coming) albums have been cover albums. Scratch My Back was an album of other artists’ songs that Peter performed and recorded while New Blood is an album of his own music recorded with a symphony orchestra. Supposedly, he’s got third album project in the works entitled I’ll Scratch Yours that will be a collection of Peter Gabriel songs recorded by other musicians.
A fairly popular Canadian group named “Tokyo Police Club” released their latest album 10 Days, 10 Covers, 10 Years which is … well, 10 cover songs from the past 10 years recorded over 10 days.
U2 just released an album entitled “AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered” – the entire Achtung Baby album covered by different artists.
Even the Muppets got on the band-wagon with a compilation album entitled “Muppets: The Green Album” where various aritsts cover popularized-by-the-Muppets classics such as Mahna Mahna (The Fray), Rainbow Connection (Weezer/Paramore) and Muppet Show Theme Song (OK Go).
And if you don’t get enough of your fill of covers, and are reluctant to delve into the Kidz Bop franchise (and I can’t blame you at all if you are), there’s a more “serious” franchise that I got introduced to by a couple of my students named “Punk Goes” where “punk” artists (some well known and some you’ll probably never want to know) cover songs from pretty well every genre and decade on appropriately themed albums. They’re quite generous on which artists / bands qualify as “punk”.
Is it laziness? Is it a trend? Is it a conspiracy cover-up to hide a void of creativity?
I don’t know, but I sure hope it’s not something that catches on and we all can get back to looking forward to creativity in music…