When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week James Blake takes on Feist’s “Limit To Your Love.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
Most weeks, I search far and wide for a cover song that’s worth comparing to the original. This week, the content simply dropped in my lap. Earning “Best New Track” from Pitchfork a couple of weeks ago, James Blake’s take on “Limit To Your Love” immediately made waves across the music haunts of the web. Unfortunately, a track produces this effect so often on the Internet these days—everyone’s a critic, ya’ll—that my first reaction was to ignore the cover. Turns out, however, that it’s worth the attention it’s been paid.
Like the rest of her work, Feist’s original has a stark, soulful swagger, prominently featuring her affecting voice and the jazz pomp of a lounge-y piano melody. Underneath, the Canadian singer/songwriter and sometimes Broken Social Scenester adds the warmth of a Rhodes and the tension of rarely moving strings. The beat finds the pocket between the subtle and the present, not written to turn heads but casually referencing the sound of Stax or Spector in the ’60s.
Blake, a U.K. dub producer barely into his 20s, does little to change the song’s overall tenor other than to drive it deeper into a kind of sensual, R&B abyss. The cover’s foundation is patience: A subtle, electronic wobble, deep, tepid bass and an infrequent beat build a delicate skeleton while Blake croons over the borrowed piano line with an expressiveness that Otis Redding would appreciate.
I’d never heard of Blake before the Pitchfork article, but what struck me was the writer’s description of his previous work and how it wasn’t vocal-centric. Listening to the cover, I’d assumed he was, as the article suggests, another Jamie Lidell-esque character, primarily a soul artist with an eclectic bent. I perused his MySpace account this morning and found that this wasn’t the case, however. Turns out, he’s a well-enmeshed member of the U.K.’s dubstep and grime community, and the tracks on his site reflect this far more than they do his jazz-dub take on Feist. Indeed, the Pitchfork writer was right to refer to Blake as “dangerous,” as his talent seems to, um, know no limit.
Cast your vote wisely.