The cover version has been somewhat devalued in recent years. Blame Travis‘ ironic rendition of Hit Me Baby One More Time if you will, but suddenly everyone was doing joke covers, be it Jo Wiley’s ‘Live Lounge’ endorsed versions of The Kooks covering The Hoosiers or Girls Aloud doing a cover of Arctic Monkeys covering… Girls Aloud.
Covers are now so smug, worthless, and self referential, that most are the audio equivalent of snake eating its own tail and feeling satisfied about the square meal.
But amid the mire, sometimes people do something worthwhile. Cat Power‘s The Covers Record deconstructs undeniably brilliant songs and rebuilds them – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, for example, loses the title refrain and becomes a different, sensual but sinister, entity.
Jesse Malin is a singer songwriter of some skill. Destined to always remain in the shadow of his chum Ryan Adams, his punky country rock has never set the world alight, but perhaps aided by a collection of classic songs from artists as diverse as The Clash, Elton John, The Ramones, Paul Simon, and, er, The Kills, he’ll shine.
A Neil Young cover is not exactly a surprise opening for someone of Malin’s Americana pedigree, but he pulls off a natty, rocking Looking For Love. His keening voice is not a million miles from Young’s, so it’s hardly a revolutionary reworking.
But rapidly he starts to fare less well. Malin’s voice is too high to pull Rock N Roll Radio. During The Clash’s Gates of the West, which is musically a passable take, he sounds like he’s singing through his nose while eating a beefburger.
Walk on the Wild Side, a song that hardly conceals its meaning in metaphor, sounds as though Malin has missed the story about the transvestite – a mistake not equalled since Sixpence None the Richer covered The Las‘ There She Goes.
Malin’s goes through the motions, not reinterpreting the tracks, not getting into some hidden or alternative meaning, not adding anything to other versions already available, just simply doing them in the Jesse Malin way. And those less in his comfort zone, notably Sam Cooke‘s Wonderful World, are plain awful – the vocals sounding like a duck taking off Bruce Springsteen.
All in all, On Your Sleeve does nothing to revive the art of the cover. Rather than offering reinterpretation, Malin sounds like an annoying guest at a house party, who despite all efforts to hide the guitar has found it and insists on playing a disparate bunch of songs much to the annoyance of everyone else, none of whom quite have the heart to tell him to stop.
The only upside to this release is that you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings when you shoot your stereo two bars into the execrable cover of Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard…