August 3, 2007

If you asked people on the street what they feel constitutes a good cover version, you’d better prepare yourself for a lot of different answers. Some people like faithfulness to the originals, others like hearing familiar songs in unfamiliar ways. Some enjoy tongue-in-cheek, others ask for deference to the song’s creators. Some want stripped-down arrangements focusing on the song’s meat, others like massive arrangements that exploit any melodic underpinnings. But, most of all, people just want the cover to be good.

Almost unbelievably, one of the best cover versions ever released came from a little-known Australian alternative band, Frente! The group’s sound is nothing special—pop music with a great lead vocalist—and the group only made inroads in Australia with one album before splitting up. But they achieved eternal fame with their stripped-down cover of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” New Order’s classic single.

The idea isn’t particularly extraordinary—take an electronically-driven dance song, strip away every instrument, transcribe the melody into an acoustic setting, and take it from there. Sounds simple, right? But, as any inventor will tell you, the plan means nothing without the execution, and the execution is what takes this song to its beautiful heights. Accompanied by a finger-picked acoustic that suggests Gillian Gilbert’s famous synth lines without directly copying them, singer Angie Hart gently croons the lyrics in her off-beat, accented voice, focusing attention entirely on the words of the song. This is one of the song’s great strengths—Bernard Sumner was rarely better at writing than this song—and it serves Frente!’s version well in lieu of any other music to distract from Hart’s vocals. Without any of the instrumental breakdowns of the original—Stephen Morris’ flashy drum mini-solo, Gilbert’s keyboard washes—the song clocks in at a punchy 1:59. But that adds to the song’s charm—by stripping the song to its basic elements, Frente! discovered its intrinsic beauty and charm.

When it comes to bands that haven’t built a strong legacy, you can go many different ways. And, it can be argued, the worst possible legacy for an also-ran group is to be known primarily for a cover version (just ask Orgy). However, when the cover is as good as “Bizarre Love Triangle,” it makes things a lot easier to swallow. Frente! may be gone (more or less), but their legacy remains.

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Tony Ling | 12:00 pm

 
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