Song of the Day: “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia / Ednaswap (/ Trine Rein)

Some of the most iconic pop and rock songs of the past half century have been covers. These two weeks, I will take a look at these classics and their overshadowed originals.

I love “Torn.” It’s a gorgeous pop ballad with a a fundamental tension:

The lyrics depict a woman broken and drained, no fight remaining after a bad breakup. Yet, Imgruglia’s confident vocals and the song’s acoustic timbre convey humanity and lingering optimism. This clash in tones could have been jarring or silly, like Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day.” Instead, it suggests a pleasing complexity of spirit. This is a song worth listening to and thinking about.

Add onto that its ear-candy tune and balanced production, and it’s no wonder the song resonated. “Torn” was one of the big soft-rock hits of the late ’90s.

Did you know that it’s a cover? Of a song initially by an obscure Los Angeles band called Ednaswap? And that their track does basically the exact opposite of everything I praised in Imbruglia’s rendition?

Without Imbruglia’s warmth or the gentle, acoustic touch, “Torn” sounds like a dour Liz Phair knock-off. The bluesy guitars sound far too heavy for the occasion (though I suppose it better matches the lyrics). There’s still some life to the core composition: It’s not surprising that others found great room for interpretation. But it’s not a great listen as recorded.

The obvious next piece of the narrative would be to praise Imbruglia and her team for reinventing something to such great effect. But Imruglia was actually the second artist to cover “Torn.” A year before Imbruglia topped the charts, Trine Rein rediscovered Ednaswap’s recording. Rein introduced almost all the elements that Imbruglia would perfect — acoustic guitar, gentler production, the choral-like vocal background, the general warmth.

Rein didn’t end up with a song quite as listenable as Imbruglia. But she definitely paved the way for Imbruglia, making a lot of important creative breakthroughs.

Ednaswap did it first, Trine Rein did it right, Natalie Imbruglia did it best.

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