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Unexpected Cover Songs

by Annie Zaleski

Unexpected Cover Songs

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Stoner punk/metal kingpins Melvins have interpreted other people’s music frequently over the years. However, their new covers album, Everybody Loves Sausages, takes the cake: The band remakes Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” with Super Mario Brothers-caliber keyboards and plenty of falsetto, imagines Roxy Music’s "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" as a cabaret dirge sung by Dracula, and transforms The Jam’s “Art School” into a nearly unrecognizable explosion of grunting oi! punk.

These Melvins redos are, to say the least, unexpected -- although the band is far from the only musical entity confounding expectations with covers. The Connecticut-based label American Laundromat has built a sizable catalog of tribute albums with oddball pairings. These collections honor everything from the cult movie Repo Man (Amanda Palmer doing a frenzied orchestral-punk take on Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized,” Matthew Sweet covering “Secret Agent Man” in Spanish) and The Cure (The Wedding Present smirking through a ragged version of “High,” Tanya Donelly assuming a cartoonish feline persona for “Lovecats”) to The Smiths (Mike Viola’s string-laden lament “How Soon Is Now?”).

Punk bands too are always good for a cover curveball. Face to Face’s churning pop-punk-ification of INXS’s “Don’t Change” and punk lifers ALL covering Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” are good places to start, as is the catalog of New Found Glory, who’ve covered everyone from Warrant (“Heaven”) to Go West (“King of Wishful Thinking”). Also worth a listen is a 1998 seven-inch pairing Burning Airlines’ aggressive punk update of Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Back of Love” with Braid’s lurching version of the Burt Bacharach chestnut “Always Something There to Remind Me.”

Other covers have a bit of a wink and a nudge to them. Sonic Youth’s über-creepy version of The Carpenters’ “Superstar,”](tra.3823875) The Flying Lizards’ robotic synth-pop take on “Money (That's What I Want)” and nearly all of Ben Folds’ covers -- including a rollicking take on The Darkness’ “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” and a straight-faced version of Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Sh*t” -- aren’t meant to be taken too seriously. (Still other tunes can be unintentionally hilarious because they don’t completely succeed; looking at you, Duran Duran, and your reggae-heavy interpretation of Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives.”)

Yet there’s no trace of shtick in Scissor Sisters’ looping electro-disco redo of Pink Floyd (“Comfortably Numb”), Nada Surf’s trembling version of Kate Bush (“Love and Anger”), Tori Amos tackling Slayer (“Raining Blood”) or the late Johnny Cash embracing his inner ’90s alt-rock god (Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”). Even Mastodon putting a sludgy metallic spin on Feist’s “A Commotion” (and The Cardigans returning the favor by lightening up Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” with some sultry electro) feels genuine. The TLC given to these songs underscores that they aren’t just a lark or some throwaway: These artists are energized by the challenge of turning something iconic into something new, different and definitely unexpected.

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