Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.
When it comes to musicians, particularly those from Australia, there’s no one quite as gloomy as Nick Cave. The singer, songwriter, author, screenwriter, composer, and actor has just a bit of talent up his sleeve. What makes him unforgettable, though, is his furrowed brow and inexplicably intense music.
He’s about as extraordinary as they get.
The emotional intensity in his songs seem to wear out his body. Every lyric is obsessed with the violent throes of religion, death, and love. With an English teacher for a father and a librarian for a mother, it’s almost a given that he would turn out verbose himself, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing painting in college. By the time he switched over the music, he knew he was on the right path.
“Opium Tea”, a popular unreleased track, sees him challenging stern image he displays on the stage. It’s a decadent song from an otherwise terrifying man, reminding us that even though he dresses so sharp that his wrinkles begin to look like scars, his brain still feels the relaxation free from the flaws of the human mind every once in a while. Cabaret-style piano clunks along a thin stretch of jazz drumming and simple bass line. For a moment, we’re sitting at the bar next to Cave, clinking glasses without the weight of the world on our shoulders.
While Cave has a menacing demeanor that’s known around the world, Cold War Kids are known for their hit single “Hang Me Up To Dry”. The California group started off 10 years ago by dropping one of the most immediately recognizable singles of the 2000s. Its clean, simple bass line called upon the likes of Spoon but stood out thanks to singer Nathan Willett’s scratchy yelps.
But now they’re more than just a one hit wonder.
With the release of 2013’s excellent Dear Miss Lonely Hearts, Cold War Kids proved they have a signature sound that can break their mold of predictable indie rock. Their fourth studio album won over critics and refreshed our memories. With Modest Mouse guitarist Dann Gallucci beside them, the crew brought audacious sounds to their usual gritty rock, turning up a more produced, crisp, and classic sound. A few weeks away before they dropped that album, though, they shared a cover of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ classic “Opium Tea”.
What starts off as a bubble of noise quickly pops and makes way for that classic Cold War Kids sound. A jumpy, ’50s-style bass line hops about while staccato piano chords stretch out a carpet quietly in the background for Willet to stomp around, enunciating each word with his signature yell. The whole thing feels like “Miracle Mile” in cut time. Every soulful backing “Ooo” gives it a timeless structure that gets whisked away in the guitar’s sunny reverb.
There’s no way Cave’s gloom can be matched, or even equally met. Instead, Cold War Kids turn his number into a dreamy song that tries its best to get a smile out of the song. Dare we say it, we can almost see Cave smiling himself, too — but don’t tell him that. He’ll hide those teeth right away.