Got It Covered: “Paper Planes” (M.I.A. vs. The Clientele)

The best cover songs put a new spin on a song without rendering it entirely unrecognizable. Sometimes they are better than the original, sometimes not — while covering a song invites comparison, why not enjoy both?Here’s a song for you to consider from angles both recognizable and unfamiliar.

Now hold up a minute. I know that to mention M.I.A. — especially on the wide world of the internet — is to provoke an immediate war of opinions  Her music and her public persona (ahem) are polarizing: She’s either avant-garde or an annoyance. However, I propose a compromise in the form of a cover song that replaces M.I.A.’s boldness with an otherworldly vibe.

Those who find M.I.A.’s music to be unpalatable are invited to skip the following video. The rest of you: For purposes of comparison, here is the track “Paper Planes” from her 2007 release Kala. It is highly likely that you have heard it before, as it received heavy airplay in addition to appearing in the film Slumdog Millionaire.  Classic rock fans haunted by a sense of familiarity might also identify the sample from The Clash’s song “Straight to Hell.”

As a part of the A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series, British band The Clientele opted to cover “Paper Planes.”  The ethereal, somewhat breathy music of The Clientele makes this an odd choice, and the diversity of styles produces a truly strange cover song. M.I.A.’s gunshot and cash register sound effects are replaced by tambourine and xylophone hits, while The Clash sample is transformed into a fluttering violin intro.

In this reimagining of “Paper Planes,” what was formerly a gunshot-riddled, hip hop-inflected jam becomes sunny and slightly psychedelic. Whether you love the original or took pleasure in skipping it in the section above, The Clientele’s cover takes it in an unexpected direction. The best part is that instead of forcing you to choose between two like versions of the song, the cover builds upon the original to create an entirely new experience.

For the week of February 21, 2012

  1. The Black Keys: El Camino
  2. Air: Le Voyage Dans La Lune
  3. Dj Cosm: Time and Space
  4. Dr. Dog: Be the Void
  5. Brain Fruit: 1.1
  6. Frank Macchia: Swamp Thang
  7. Twink: Itsy Bits & Bubbles
  8. R.E.M.: Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, 1982-2011
  9. Orange Goblin: A Eulogy for the Damned
  10. Jeff Gauthier Goatette: Open Source

Alt Tuesday: Metric

Good lyrics are hard to come by these days. Not to call any modern acts out (except the Goo Goo Dolls… see below), but if you listen to a lot of different bands within the same genre, you aren’t going to have to think a lot to figure out what each metaphor means. For God’s sake, the number of times “And you bleed just to know you’re alive” has been regurgitated as a lyric is ridiculous. But Emily Haines breaks down those walls with her lyricism on Metric’s 2009 album Fantasies.

The opening track, “Help I’m Alive” is a radio gem, with a wonderful hook and thoughtful lyrics. She hypnotically sings “Help I’m alive my heart keeps beating like a hammer / Hard to be soft, Tough to be tender.” Clever lyricism? Check. The trend continues onto the second track of the album, “Sick Muse” (see video below). This song is catchy and guitar driven, but the lyrics stand out yet again. “Watch out, Cupid stuck me with a sickness / Pull your little arrows out and let me live my life” If you ask me, that is the kind of imagery and thought that is missing in much modern music.

Stylistically, Metric isn’t necessarily doing anything innovative, but the band’s music is convincingly well crafted. The group’s use of synthesizers and keyboards is well placed and complementary to the strong melodies that come from lead guitarist James Shaw and Haines.  Haines’ sweet voice shines through on amazing spacey tracks like “Twilight Galaxy” and the radio single “Gold, Guns, Girls.”

The line “Who would you rather be / The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” is a particular piece of brilliance that can be heard on “Gimme Sympathy.” The kind of thought process that goes into these lyrics is clearly far superior to the other minds in the indie field. I would highly suggest Fantasies as a gateway into the less accessible earlier Metric albums if you have a thing for thoughtful indie synth pop.

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