Monday, 13 June 2011

Clandestine Classic XV - The Lovecats (cover)

Those Futurehead boysThe fifteenth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Today, and for the first time in the Clandestine Classics series, a cover version. I know, it's a risk - covers nearly always generate one of two reactions: either it's not as good as the original ("musical heresy" and all that kind of thing); or, this is okay but so-and-so's cover of this song is much better. To be fair, more often than not these reactions are perfectly warranted but occasionally a cover comes along that really does reinterpret the song, where the band really do make it unmistakably their own. Today's offering is one such cover: from 2009, I give you The Lovecats by The Futureheads.

What, I hear you cry - am I mad? Musical heresy, et cetera. Who would blaspheme over Robert Smith and his merry band's commercial highpoint? Who would dare to mess with the original's double-bass line and jinking piano motif? I mean, come on, The Cure had milk bottles being knocked over and cats miaowing in their definitive version - how are you going to improve on that?

Well, a good question, but the fact is a good cover doesn't necessarily have to improve on the original (though some do). No. Surely it's more important just to try to do something a bit different, reimagine some aspect of the song, make a part of it your own. What's the point in makng a note-for-note facsimile - you might just as well play the original.

Of course The Futureheads have form for creative cover versions - their chart highpoint was a pretty fine cover version of the inestimable Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love. I guess that once they'd covered dogs, they might as well move on to cats... So when the NME were compiling a freebie CD of Cure cover versions in the early months of 2009, to celebrate Smith's band receiving the magazine's "Godlike geniuses" award, this is what The Futureheads came up with. Now to be fair, the whole CD, cover-mounted in February of that year, is pretty good, although quite a lot of the tributes fall foul of doing straight reproductions of the original songs. The Futurehead's cover stands out though, first of all by being excellent but mostly by it becoming a Futureheads song rather than a Cure cover. First of all, they up the tempo - the original strolls along at a leisurely feline pace, whilst this cover barrels along in short explosive blasts, like a cheetah. Then, they dispense with the milk-bottle, cat sound effects and, perhaps most crucially, that deep stand-up bass sound. Finally, they pull off what must be a very difficult masterstroke - they completely change the emphasis and intonation in the vocal. Witness that first line, with its stresses on "tigers" and "closer", as opposed to Robert Smith's "move" and "couldn't". How hard must this be to do, when you have grown up listening to, and are steeped in, the original?

I'll be honest, Lovecats is far from my favourite Cure song - I know a lot of people love it but to me, well, it hardly feels like proper Cure. It just feels as if someone challenged Smith to have a big chart hit, and this is what he came up with. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate it, far from it - I'll still hum along and parts of my body will move when it comes on the radio. But The Futurehead's version, I love. That ba-da-daa-da chant they've used to replace the bassline, it gets in your head. Sorry to be a heretic, but I'm now at the point of preferring this to the original. Perhaps you'll feel the same after a couple of listens. You might find the NME cover-mounted CD on ebay (at the time of writing, I couldn't), though if it's just this song you're after try this. This Clandestine Classic's video delights, as ever, are courtesy of YouTube - for comparative purposes, you can watch Robert Smith and chums do the original here but what I really want you to listen to is The Futurehead's cover version, below. There's nothing much to see, sorry, but just close your eyes and listen. Altogether now, ba-da-daa-da...

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