There are some ground rules for a successful cover version that apply to all but the ropiest of lost cause tribute bands. Ensuring the cover sounds different to the original while avoiding parody is key. An admiration for the original also helps give authenticity and passion but the crowning achievement is to produce a cover version that sounds even better than the original.
Few have achieved that, with Jim Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower and Johnny Cash’s Mercy Seat being among the rare exceptions. With this in mind we find ourselves listening to an eight track mini-album by newly Mercury Music Prize nominated Field Music, bringing together their covers of tracks from the likes of John Cale and The Beatles that have already appeared on charity singles, magazine give aways and B-sides.
The tracks that work best are when they successfully put a Field Music spin on it, filling it with tempo changes, jerky arrangements and their, perhaps now trademark, guitar string bending. Opener Terrapin is perhaps the best example of this and achieves the rare accolade of bettering the original, which is a painfully dire psychedelic mess by the late Syd Barrett.
Another success is their take on Roxy Music’s If There Is Something, which takes away the original’s cheese factor, plays around with its intricate guitar arrangement and benefits from Field Music brother Peter and David Brewis having similar north east of England accents to Roxy frontman Bryan Ferry. The Beatles Don’t Pass Me By is another triumph, with the original’s psychedelic rock and change of pace proving the perfect foil for Field Music. Their version also benefits from not having Ringo Starr singing on it.
Less successful is John Cale’s Fear is a Man’s Best Friend. It’s a great song and while they do a passable version, they don’t add much more to it or attempt to play around with its stomping piano moments. Born Again Cretin, originally by Robert Wyatt, is full of admiration for the original, but fails to top it. But then again who can? And while I like the two Pet Shop Boys covers, of Heart and Rent, it is the latter that really shines. David Brewis’s vocals brings out the sadness in this pop gem perfectly. Once again the similarity in accents between the brothers and North Shields born Neil Tennant helps.
by Joe Lepper