This particular cover sub-genre was started when three artists--former Veruca Salt front woman Nina Simone, internet musician Jonathan Coulton, and much-mentioned on this blog Ben Folds--did melodic versions of famous gangsta rap classics. Simone took NWA's 'Straight Outta Compton' and turned it into a jazzy torch song, whereas Folds made 'Bitches Ain't Shit' into a strange piano ballad. Coulton's cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot's 'Baby Got Back,' which reduced its techno-funk beat to easy listening guitar riffs followed shortly after.
Now all three of these songs I cite above are not part of what I rail against. They all show a great deal of affection for the genre they're altering (Simone's, in particular, seems to be treating the song with great reverence), and are recommended. What I'm talking about is the flood of covers that followed these three--countless songs by indie bands and alt-folk troubadours who have taken countless rap and modern R&B songs and simply slowed the tempo to dirge-time and leave it at that, thinking they're proving how cool they are by being 'ironic' in this way. Those me-too'ers bug the Hell out of me. It shows that the kind of lazy songsmithing I accuse many pop acts of is not confined to them...
But recently I found a cover of a modern R&B song I truly, truly liked, and I figured I'd share it with you. But before I do that, as is the tradition with most of the Cover-versies I have posted, here's the original, R. Kelly's 'Ignition (Remix')
Yes...I am about to post an R. Kelly song right here....
....and now here's a cover by the Bay Area Twee Pop combo The Corner Laughers
Man, I like this cover. And not just because I love Karla Kane's vocals, or because of the honest transposition of a Twee Pop sensibility with R. Kelly's distinctively laid-back-to-the-point-of-sludgy tendencies. What I love about this particular cover is how the band manages to translate Kelly's style into their own without losing or destroying the original's feel one bit. Yes, The Corner Laughers do re-arrange Kelly's melody a bit, swapping out the electronic beats with that toy piano-like plinking and adding some harmonics and shout backs to the backing vocals. Hell, I swear there's a pitch change to accomodate Kane's vocals since she's, you know, female. But Kelly's original is unmistakably still there. The group isn't mocking Kelly, but--much like Simone and Folds and Kelly before them--showing a great deal of affection for his work. And I can certainly get behind that.
I do wish you could hear The Corner Laughers' studio mix of the song....wait a minute, you can! If you go here, you can download the track free and clear--or, if you have seventy-nine cents handy, you can purchase the entire single. I'd recommend that; 'Ignition (Remix)' is a b-side to 'Transamerica Pyramid,' a wonderfully bouncy love letter to San Francisco that sets a love story against its skyline. Please be sure to tell them I sent you.
(And if you like what you hear, you might want to pre-order their new album, Poppy Seeds, which is forthcoming this May.)