Talking Movies

May 10, 2011

Scary Covers and Super Creeps

The time has come for this blog’s first foray into music criticism, to bitch about a bad cover version of ‘Creep’…

I never saw the trailer for The Social Network that was sound-tracked by Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ being performed by an angelic sounding choir, but I’ve heard it raved over ever since. However I’ve just seen an all-female choir, led by a male conductor and accompanied by a male pianist, perform what appears to be that self-same version on Conan and I disliked it enough to really think hard about just why I didn’t love it as I apparently ought to… I mean, I’m a fan of Tori Amos, I like Radiohead, and I loved The Social Network; so when all these elements combine in this cover version it should be the perfect storm of stuff I really dig, no? No, as it turns out.

This version no doubt works brilliantly in the truncated setting of a trailer as background music to a montage of Sorkin’s most biting dialogue and Fincher’s coolest shots, but, stripped of such distraction and heard at full length, it’s a disaster. ‘Creep’ is an anthem of self-loathing, and I can’t help but feel it loses something when your visual frame is seeing it being performed by a choir of pretty women rather than underscoring the wincing misadventures of a jerk. Moreover ‘Creep’ is a grunge anthem. Listen to how it works; soft verse, loud chorus, soft verse, loud chorus, very loud (where the guitars get ever more frenzied as Yorke’s vocals soar), very soft verse and chorus (for the collapse into utter self-loathing); it’s an incredibly dramatic dynamic that is a major part of what makes the song so exhilarating, yet it is completely obliterated by the choir’s version, which, apart from a sotto voce whispered delivery during the final chorus, renders all the verses and choruses with the exact same level of intensity. Equally lacking is the contrast between Yorke’s verses and his sky-scraping ‘She is running out the door’ break; there is nothing remarkable about a female choir hitting those high notes which he invests with such tortured grace. But such monotony of volume and range destroys the song.

It’s as if the people behind this cover saw a chance to ‘do a Tori Amos’; which in their understanding simply meant take a grunge song, mute it, put it on piano with female vocals and wow everyone. But it doesn’t work, because that’s not what Tori Amos does. Amos is too innately theatrical to ever consider performing a song in such a monotonous fashion as this ‘Creep’. Her version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is an emotional threnody, while her rendition of ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ buckles with restrained emotion threatening to burst through. Put simply Amos is incapable of singing without feeling, whereas the choral version of ‘Creep’, while being technically flawless, is almost entirely lacking in feeling.

Oddly enough there’s a phrase for just this sort of thing. Once more, with feeling…

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