New Noise :: Bat for Lashes, "I'm on Fire" [Bruce Springsteen cover]

I generally and genuinely think that I am one of the only people in my generation — especially among my peer group — without any sort of love or reverence for several "critical" bands — i.e. Guns 'n' Roses, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, etc. The most baffling to me, though, is Bruce Springsteen. His workmanlike, wholly American roots-rock has influenced so many bands I'm in to that it would see only appropriate — necessary, even — for me to have a certain degree of love for The Boss. You'd think that, but there's something about Bruce that I find absolutely repugnant. Indeed, I could never see it as William Ruhlmann of allmusic.com does: "When Bruce Springsteen finally broke through to national recognition in the fall of 1975 after a decade of trying, critics hailed him as the savior of rock & roll, the single artist who brought together all the exuberance of '50s rock and the thoughtfulness of '60s rock, molded into a '70s style. He rocked as hard as Jerry Lee Lewis, his lyrics were as complicated as Bob Dylan's, and his concerts were near-religious celebrations of all that was best in music." Perhaps those are even the precise reasons I don't like him — I find The Boss smug, jingoistic and too beat-you-over-the-head-and-cram-it-down-your-throat patriotic for my liking. As it stands, I find Born to Run boring, Born in the U.S.A terrible and Nebraska underwhelming. Odder still: My favorite Springsteen song — indeed, the only one I like (and yes, I know it's on Born in the U.S.A.) — is "I'm on Fire," not generally considered among the "Born to Run"s and "The Rising"s that comprise the best of The Boss' oeuvre. A desperate and harrowing obsessive-love song on par with The Police's "Every Breath You Take," "I'm on Fire" is criminally underrated.

So why is it that I don't like Bat for Lashes' cover? I think it's for the same reasons I didn't like Sun Kil Moon's Modest Mouse tribute piece, Tiny Cities. While I don't particularly have anything against artists taking liberties with cover songs — indeed, sometimes, as in the case of Pavement's cover of R.E.M.'s "Camera," it rewrites the song in an exemplary manner that enlightens and elucidates the listener to a radical interpretation of form and file — there comes a point where disregarding the source material is done at great disservice to performance. Again, I cite Mark Kozelek rewriting Isaac Brock — the former's velvety baritone and gentle picking aren't suited for the latter's jittery caterwaul and staccato fretwork. And so it goes with Bat for Lashes, who not only disregards "I'm on Fire"'s original tempo and ornamentation, slowing it to an ornate Victorian dirge, and The Boss' vocal cadence, but at times even changes the words. I'm not talking simple pronoun replacement — indeed, the song just fine from a female perspective; but the one thing I've always handed to Springsteen was his ability to cogently and masterfully string words together. To fuck with that is egregious. Pitchfork's Mark Richardson might say that "there's something to be said for a cover that transports the original song to another world," but maybe, just maybe, women from Venus shouldn't cover songs written by men from Mars.

Bat for Lashes — "I'm on Fire" [Bruce Springsteen cover] (via Pitchfork)


Anonymous said...

I personally like both the original and the cover. To hear her do him would be both boring and redundant.

Anonymous said...

Bruce Springsteen is so over. I could never understand his popularity, as one of his first songs, from 30 years ago, was so off-key it was painful to listen to on the radio. Don't remember the name of it, but it was one of his first hits. It's like he wanted to have that rough Joe Cocker voice, but Joe is so much better. This new version of I'm On Fire is beautiful. Vive la difference!