This week, I’m going to share some cover songs that I like.
Gary Jules is not the first person to discover that stripping down a song’s production can give it new interpretive layers. But his rendition of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” stands out as a particularly excellent example of the practice.
The original, though a great song, featured a tonal clash of darkness and whimsy that sounds downright jarring to my ears. Tears for Fears’ signature production, busy with drum machines and synths, tugs at the threads of the composition and lyrics, featuring weird noises in weird places that obfuscate the song’s core.
The Gary Jules cover, featured in the film Donnie Darko, goes the opposite direction. Jules scrapes away all playfulness from the original. What’s left is Gothic and stark: The lyrics’ image of haunted aimlessness have a new, powerful edge when when accompanied by just a piano and some swelling strings.
There have been better covers — ones that have found more that have done more to recontextualize their source in profound ways — but not many of them.