It’s a brave artist that chooses five iconic tracks from wildly different acts and gives them a significant, contemporary make-over as they attempt to re-interpret them with a fresh prospective. Shut Up Kiss Me singer Angel Olsen is that artist and she’s definitely brought something new to the table on all five of the fondly remembered songs.
Cover versions of course are nothing new, and when done well can have spectacular results that can shift the popularity of the song to the alternative. Tainted Love, Song To The Siren, Nothing Compares 2 U, Valerie and Hallelujah are all prime examples of songs that are now more associated with those who have covered the track than the original artist.
One of Olsen’s chosen songs is actually a cover of a cover. The opening track to Angel’s five track EP is a re-worked version of Laura Branigan’s Flashdance epic Gloria which itself was a cover of an original song by Italian artist Umberto Tozzi. The upbeat ’80’s classic has been given a darker interpretation by Angel Olsen as she radically slows the BPM and takes the song into Angelo Badalementi territory with a brooding and cinematic soundtrack. The vocals are stretched and there’s no fist pumping hi-energy to get your adrenalin flowing. Angel’s Gloria is subdued but not sedated, subtle but not superfluous and considered whilst not contrite. The blend of Olsen’s voice with the synths, strings and drawn out drum machine beats make this cover work particularly well. Olsen explained the inspiration for her choice in a recent statement by saying,”I’d heard Gloria for the first time at a family Christmas gathering and was amazed at all the aunts who got up to dance. I imagined them all dancing and laughing in slow motion, and that’s when I got the idea to slow the entire song down and try it out in this way.”
Billy Idol’s 1984 single, Eyes Without A Face, from his 1983 album Rebel Yell, isn’t shifted in character nearly as much as Angle Olsen gives a far more sympathetic rendition of the song but with a lot less posturing and a lightness of touch that takes all the machismo out of the original. There’s not a single fingerless leather glove, pout or shredded guitar in sight just a delicate and tender ballad without any histrionics.
If You Leave, Olsen’s OMD cover, is probably the song that remains as energised and as close to the original as any on her Aisles EP. The new version stays aligned to the tempo of the early ’80’s recording and the harmonised arrangement is not a million miles away either, although, sadly, there is no sax break in the Olsen version. Alphaville’s Forever Young closes out the EP, with Angel Olsen digging deep to channel a convincing 1980’s vocal that harks back to the heady days of Nena’s 99 LuftBallons. Olsen’s take on the 1984 song is not quite as bombastic but it’s retro instrumentation and air-brushed finish give the production a suitably nostalgic quality.
Where Aisles doesn’t work quite so well is on Angel Olsen’s risky interpretation of Safety Dance by Men Without Hats. The oddity of the original was such a standout from the norm at the time and any attempt at deviation from that inspired mix tends not to fare too well. This is the case with Olsen’s slowed down and more sombre interpretation. The infectious joy of the original version has been replaced by something that takes the spirit and the character out of the song.
Talking about the EP Angel said, “I know it’s not really in my history to do something unintentional or just for the hell of it, but my connection to these songs is pretty straightforward. I just wanted to have a little fun and be a little more spontaneous, and I think I needed to remember that I could!” And for the most part, fun it is, and it’s probably not what we were expecting from the All Mirrors artist at the beginning of the year so here’s to spontaneity.