For the purpose of this review, lets explore the definitions of both a cover and a remix: A cover is a new performance or recording of a previously recorded commercially released song by someone other than the original artist or composer, while a remix is defined as ‘to mix again, or to mix and re-record the elements of (a musical recording) in a different way’.
In no way is a remix or a cover in any way inherently bad. The past few decades have seen some truly magnificent covers: The Smashing Pumpkins eerie rendition of “Landslide”, originally by Fleetwood Mac, Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”, and of all the countless “Wicked Game” covers, a song originally done by Chris Isaak, Stone Sour’s rendition stands out the most. However, the opposite can happen. A remix or a cover can take away from a song that was already a perfected masterpiece, or at the very least a stunning work. The original had some sort of raw emotion or groundbreaking element that no one had ever done before, and thus trying to rework that piece and adding something else utterly ruins it. The past decade or so has seen a particularly strange epidemic of this. New and upcoming artists as well as industry leaders have all tried to cash in on fame by using lyrics and instrumentation from well-loved classics, often to disastrous results.
Last week I took the liberty of reviewing what I personally felt to be one of the better albums of the last five years: Strange Desire, by Bleachers, is “a triumphant and explosive indie rock album filled to the brim with Pop Punk riffs laced over 80’s synth and raw emotional lyrics that are often anecdotal of Antonoff’s personal life.” In my mind, it is an album of fantastic proportions.
Yet with the popularity of an artist others will often try to latch onto the rising fame in the hopes of catching some themselves. This happened in the case of Against the Current, a YouTube-based ‘Pop-Rock’ band that thrives off of doing covers, achieving some notable internet success that lead them to a 2014 World Tour, and vocals from Electropop artist The Ready Set.
The cover starts out with a stripped down piano chorus, which leads into the female vocalist Chrissy Costanza who is heavily layered down with autotune, to sing the first verse.
The second verse is immediately taken charge by Jordan Witzigreuter (the sole member of The Ready Set), who appears to have the physical imagery of ‘Teenage Heartthrob’ down to a science, but with none of the apparent musical ability. If the level of autotune in Costanza’s voice was enough to send you reeling, Witzigreuter takes the median to an entirely different level, drenching his voice with so much processing it leaves the flat, annoying screech that comes out of his mouth to resemble more of a manufactured robot than a human being.
It’s at this point that the college frat boy in the background, who appears to be Dan Gow, starts to molest his acoustic guitar, somehow strumming out the only four chords he appears to know which repeatedly drones for the remaining painstaking two minutes and forty seconds. Even as the tension rises to a moment that in the original is supposed to be climactic and explosive, Against the Current manages to butcher it by adding a rather simplistic and dull drum rhythm. Soon enough, I thought, a guitar solo should cut through and offer a reprieve to the dry horrific sound of the vocalists, but it doesn’t come.
Instead of arguably one of the most creative guitar solos in the last five years we are rewarded with more of the same four chords while Witzigreuter mashes a singular button on a synthesizer repeatedly, echoing a bizarre and generic electronic noise that certainly feels as if it belongs more in a Skrillex or Deadmau5 track. Furthermore, someone should remind him that simply swaying back and forth pressing a button on a synth doesn’t count as a solo, nor is it impressive.
Post-solo, the song still does not fare well. It repeats the same stale four chords while the robotic duo continue to drawl out the remaining mechanical verses, until at last, the cover’s only redeeming moment arrives…when it finally ends.
While the replacement of solo instrumentation for ‘Bass Drops’ and Synthesizers is admittedly horrific, it does say something about the modern-day music industry and the way people listen to music. Where once technical skill and creativity was something that people praised, now it’s left in the shadow of studio-manufactured sound that’s not created by a band with guitars and drums, but by a well-paid executive using algorithms and documented studies. This sound created through equations and sung by people who are little more than familiar faces, dominates Pop radio. It’s something I affectionately call ‘Formula Pop’, a style of music that is neither an artistic expression nor necessity. A product that the industry created and molded, not unlike a toy or a piece of food. It has been created because they know it will sell, and sell it does, because that’s what people want to hear.
During this moment in the review, it’s important to note that I’d listened to this painful rendition of ‘I Wanna Get Better’ something like a dozen times, and had to take a break for a few hours, bleaching my ears with some well-earned Queens of the Stone Age and Social Distortion. In fact, if you’re looking for an example of a well-executed cover, check out Social D’s punk-fueled “Ring of Fire”.
To reiterate a previous statement, the term ‘cover’ or ‘remix’ should never have a negative connotation, but Against the Current, an abysmal rock-pop group of Youtube fame that relies far too much on post-production, along with The Ready Set, an incredibly generic and forgettable Pop act that sounds like literally everything else that plays on the radio, are two of many thousands of groups that seem to completely ruin songs that certainly did not deserve it by simply touching them. They took a song that, in it’s original element, was an incredibly raw and emotional piece written about a monumental moment in Jack Antonoff’s life. The pinnacle moment in the song comes just before the innovative solo, when Antonoff seems to bellow, as if actually right in the moment he is describing, “I’m standin’ on the overpass screamin’ at myself ‘Hey, I wanna get better!” In fact, in the entirety of “I Wanna Get Better,” it’s as if the guitar is being slammed with each lyric, mirroring the same intensity the lyrics bring. The two artists took that anthem, stripped it down, and forced out a song that feels disingenuous, fabricated and mass-produced. It loses all of the instrumental intensity, stagnates in moments where Antonoff glided over with artful perfection, and removes the lyrical meaning and quality that was achieved. There is no execution, but rather a couple of bored, un-impassioned people who can’t hit a note without hours of remastering at a computer. Ever more disheartening is how the video cover on Youtube appears to have nearly as many views, and the comments, comprised of young teenagers, echo “I like this version better than the original,” as if surrendering any implication that they themselves might have any sense of musical understanding.
What are some other examples of terrible covers that butchered the original? Comment below what you think are some of the world’s worst musical remakes, from any genre or decade!