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April 13, 2004 - Image 8

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2004-04-13

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Tuesday
April 13, 2004
arts.michigandaily.com
artseditor@michigandaily.com

AJb Ld fim uigatdg
ARTS

8

I

ANDREW M.
GAERIG

Xeroxing the classics

Cover songs have been a substan-
tial and important part of the
music canon since pop music
first began evolving. The ability to
absorb and reproduce a song was once
considered integral to an artist's vitality.
In fact, until Dylan and The Beatles
flipped the rock 'n' roll world on its
head in the mid '60s, artists were not
expected to make it on anything but cov-
ers. Rock's list of legends is littered with
artists who started their careers playing
songs that had already been commer-
cially available: The Rolling Stones
("Time Is On My Side"), The Byrds
("Mr. Tambourine Man") and Aretha
Franklin ("Respect"). Lately, however,
covers have become cash-ins, a quick
way to get an artist on the radio based on
the strength of someone else's songwrit-
ing. They have lost their importance,
potency and relevance.
One must first ask what goes into a
good cover song. Is it necessary for the
new artist to redefine the song, or is re-
discovering enough? Where and when
are they appropriate? The idea of cover-
ing someone else's music was central to
the early blues and folk musicians, to
whom the idea of writing one's own
music was not only uncommon, it was
borderline sacrilege. In these proud tra-
ditions, artists grew up playing stan-
dards, songs far too good to be
supplanted by anything modern or origi-
nal. This thought process lasted well into
the '60s, when Ledbelly's "The House
of the Rising Sun" hit radio airwaves
several times, and songs like "Man of
Constant Sorrow" became necessary
parts of every folk artist's repertoire.
As pop musicians began writing their
own music, choosing where and when to
cover someone else's work became a
more delicate process. The number of
covers decreased, but their prominence
did not. Eric Clapton rode Robert John-
son's blues classic "Crossroads" to star-
dom. Led Zeppelin's first album
contained two covers of songs by leg-
endary bassist Willie Dixon. One of Jimi
Hendrix's most successful compositions
was a reading of Dylan's folk tale "All
Along the Watchtower."
Things have, however, changed. Cov-
ers are now kitschy throwaway tracks or
calculated marketing experiments. The
most egregious offender was Limp
Bizkit, who turned an already bad song
- George Michael's "Faith" - into an
even worse hit. The trend of alterna-
tive/metal bands following in Bizkit's
footsteps was as predictable as it was
laughable: Orgy had their first hit with

New Order's "Blue Monday," Rage
Against the Machine released a whole
album of revisions and P.O.D. rode U2's
"Bullet the Blue Sky" to moderate suc-
cess. And even if you think "Faith" was
kind of fun (you shouldn't), how many
of your lives were improved by Dis-
turbed's "Shout 2000" remake? Didn't
think so.
But while metal musicians were busy
making bad songs worse, certain genres
were staying away from the cover song
entirely. Hip-hop's version of the cover
song - the remix - leaves a lot to be
desired. Aside from the obvious disad-
vantage of having what amounts to the
same vocal track as the original, the cre-
ativity of remix artists is sorely lacking.
Also, not enough rap artists cover each
other. Who wouldn't want to hear Kanye
West update an old Public Enemy track?
For those who do choose to re-inter-
pret, there should be a few ground rules.
First and foremost, the cover should not
outshine your own music. This was espe-
cially troublesome in the case of modern
rock acts, and it was occasionally a prob-
lem with even some of the better '60s
bands (here's looking at you, Byrds).
Further, it is not enough to simply re-
record a song. Don't take too many liber-
ties, but if nothing new is injected into a
song, stay off it. The chance for error is
simply too high. Also, quit releasing the
cover as the single. This is correlated
with the first rule - if it is the catchiest
song you have, start over.
Cover songs are still an important
aspect of pop music, despite recent
transgressions. The ability of one artist
to read another's work - especially if
they can find a fresh context for that
work - is a fascinating process, and it
will remain an integral part of popular
culture. In the hands of a brave, discern-
ing artist, a cover song can be a fascinat-
ing way to read the past. Without the
proper approach, however, covers are
nothing more than a disguise for the
untalented.
For the record, here are one writer's
top five cover songs, in no particular
order: The Clash covering The Bobby
Fuller Four's "I Fought the Law," Nir-
vana covering Ledbelly's "Where Did
You Sleep Last Night," The Talking
Heads' reading of Al Green's "Take Me
To the River," The Band covering Bob
Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and The
Beach Boys' take on the traditional folk
song "Sloop John B."

C.ouresy of SoniyPictures Clssics

I promise you, I will win this staring contest.

RGETTING
HE PAST

'LENIN' DIVES INTO
POST-COLD WAR
MENTALITY

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

From up here, I can see right down that hospital gown.

By Raquel Laneri
Daily Arts Writer

Nostalgia is unique in that it doesn't discrimi-
nate. We not only feel nostalgic for simpler,
happier times or for people and possessions we
once loved, but often for the things we hated or
found ridiculous.
Like the '80s retro fad now ravaging the

countryside - the times
were bad, the fashions were
horrendous, and the cheesy
synth-pop was undeniably
awful - for those who
experienced that decade,
there is some sort of fond-
ness in our hearts for it.
Wolfgang Becker's "Good

Good bye,
Lenin!
At Madstone
Sonyictures
b Lassics
bye, Lenin!" is

Bruhl) is one of many young people demanding
the reunification of East and West Germany.
When his devout socialist mother, Christiane
(Katrin Sass), watches the police arrest him,
however, she suffers a heart attack.
She wakes up eight months later, unaware of
the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of the West-
ernization of not only her country, but also her
children.
Afraid his mother won't survive the shock of
hearing of the death of her beloved nation, Alex
begins a scheme to keep his mother blissfully
ignorant of the collapse- of Communism. He
plays old taped newscasts for her on the TV,
bribing her old students to come over and sing
Communist songs and fabricating stories
explaining the appearance of Coca-Cola logos
and the infiltration of Westerners into their
apartment building.
"Good bye, Lenin!" works best when it lets
the images of tacky Western culture speak for
themselves - obtrusive red Coca-Cola trucks
disrupting a shot of an old monument, rows of
newly installed satellite dishes shining in the
sun, Alex's sister, Ariane, in her garish uniform
smiling at the camera and saying "Welcome to
Burger King!"
The death of the East is most eloquently
expressed, though, with a gigantic statue of

Lenin, seemingly gesturing to a bewildered
Christiane, trailing from a helicopter in the sky.
After a while, the film loses its comedic
momentum. Alex's plans and lies get more con-
voluted and fantastical, and his antics, at first
charming, become increasingly pathetic and
tiresome.
As Alex attempts to construct some type of
utopian socialist world for his mother, he devel-
ops an attachment to the old, Communist way.
Perhaps he immediately identifies East Ger-
many with his mother, whom he sees slipping
away, or perhaps he yearns for the years of opti-
mism and hope that characterizes his mother's
socialist outlook.
This gives some insight'into the ridiculous
lengths he goes to in orderto keep his mother in
the dark. He does it not only for her, but for
himself. And though Becker takes Alex's devo-
tion a little too far to merit a suspension of
belief, he at least provides the audience a
glimpse of understanding.
Though the film gets rather pedantic in its
utopian principals and maudlin in its portrayal
of the suffering, saintly mother, "Good bye,
Lenin!" still provides some laughs and enter-
tainment and boasts a likeable cast of characters,
which helps audiences to forgive its cumber-
some length and improbable occurrences.

.

replete with this sort of nostalgia from the very
beginning, when a fuzzy, low-budget home
movie of children playing and giggling is shown
over the tinkling of sentimental piano music
that is in every other bittersweet movie.
Yes, it is a bit heavy-handed, but it's neces-
sary to understand the protagonist's growing
nostalgia for the very government that, in the
beginning, he protests against. Alex (Daniel

- Whatever E-mailAndrew at
agaerig~umich. edu

Garage rockers uninventive in debut EP

SHORT

TAKES

By Punit-Mattoo
Daily Arts Writer
The recent success of New York groups such as
The Strokes and The Walkmen has catalyzed the
national emergence of garage-rock bands once
relegated to endlessly touring the East Coast club

circuit. Suburban New York-
ers Robbers on High Street,
with their debut EP Fine
Lines, ride the coattails of
those before them.
Sounding like a Northern
version of Spoon, the band
effectively creates simplistic

Robbers on
High Street
Fine Lines
New Line
hooks involving

Unfortunately, the lack of substance or ingenu-
ity leaves the Robbers lost in the crowd of garage-
rockers. Unlike the aforementioned Strokes or
Walkmen, Robbers create no distinct sound that
warrants attention. Their lone positive is their abil-
ity to create a catchy hook, as evidenced on "Hot
Sluts (Say I Love You)" and "How It Falls Apart."
On the rest of Fine Lines, the songs appear notice-
ably repetitive with little depth or imagination.
The band does attempt to diverge from the typi-
cal garage-rock path. On "Opal Ann," the group
uses a piano that amplifies the crescendo of the
vocals and drums, and reveals a possibility that the
Robbers might be able to break the monotony of
their songs.
As their first release, not too much was expected
of the Robbers and nothing exceptional is given.
Instead, Fine Lines becomes yet another release to
be forgotten in the future. The group does show,
however, that it has the potential to differentiate
itself. The Robbers' ability to create catchy hooks

DILATED PEOPLES
-NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH
CAPITOL.
The Dilated Peoples have been
knocking on the mainstream's door
for a while, but they've spent most
of their time hanging around in the
murky basement of the under-
ground. Neighborhood Watch
attempts to bring the two together.
With the album frontloaded with
tracks produced by the Alchemist
and one prerequisite Kanye West
track to finish it off, it would seem
like this is time for Dilated to make
their move.
Sadly, this is far from the case,
as the album is often overwhelm-
ingly pedestrian and repetitive in
both its lyrics and its production.
Alchemist's beats are just boring
and fail to create any momentum
leading into the rest of the record.
Often didactic and preachy, Neigh-
borhood Watch feels like the
neighborhood soapbox man who

always stops you to talk but never
has anything interesting to say.
Lines like "I'm an underground cat
but still like money and cars"
serve no purpose.
It's never a good sign when the
guest appearances are the album's
high point. There is an always
appreciated appearance by Devin
the Dude with the line "She ain't
the one to trust, she'll treat your
heart like Toys' R Us." Kanye's
song, although derived in both mes-
sage and sound, is the most lively
cut on this album.
Although Dilated Peoples didn't
go the club route with up-tempo
beats and nonsensical lyrics in an
effort to abandon their audience, it
might have made things more inter-
esting. While not the worst rap
album around, Neighborhood Watch
is disappointing. Instead of watch-
ing the neighborhood, Dilated Peo-
ples should have been watching
their lyrics and production. **
- Hussain Rahim

nothing more than simple drumming and guitar
strumming. The band's crispness, echoing lead
singer Ben Trokan, allows the band to do much
with so little.

and their willingness to attempt new things gives
hope that on their first full album an enjoyable band
with its own identity will emerge.

DAILY ARTS. STAMOS IS NO MORE.

Interested in a Career i pO r Bsiess
The faculty of the University of Michigan's Sport
Management Program is holding an information
meeting for prospective undergraduate students
;┬░anW Iilna,v Ah~ 4rW h

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