When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Nouvelle Vague takes on Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
Though it’s hard to say exactly who or what Ian McCulloch is singing to on “The Killing Moon” (man? woman? the Grim Reaper?), the song is unquestioningly one of the most wistfully romantic tracks ever written. Rarely does melancholy, seduction and death (literal or figurative, it doesn’t matter) come together this evocatively, so much so that it makes one’s passing almost a thing to welcome. Indeed, with its Far Eastern lead-guitar melody, stately, haunting strings, jangly acoustic lines, scurrying drums and guitar bends that bleed out every ounce of reverb possible, “The Killing Moon” is as iconic of mid-’80s detachment as it is the concept of visual music, a combination of sights and sounds that reflect images both ethereal and intimate in scope.
It’s no wonder, then, that filmmakers used the song in 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank, 1998’s Gia, 2001’s Donnie Darko and 2004’s The Girl Next Door, in addition to skate and snowboard videos for Transworld magazine and Absinthe Films, respectively, and in TV spots for Discovery and U.K. show Supernatural. As a score, it works every time, creating a flexible, dark seduction that never feels too morose. Instead, it ferries our minds among various circumstances to the edge of some vague, mythological vastness, a place where dense, pitiful thoughts experience a rare validation. Because, let’s face it: Sometimes darkness is not only more present than light, it’s actually preferable.
That being said, I have no reason to believe that Echo & The Bunnymen was that intent on creating the most romantically bleak song ever written. Moreover, aside from “Nocturnal Me” and pieces of the title track, the songs that comprise Ocean Rain are in reality far from this sentiment (read: inconsistent), which is perhaps one reason the quartet never gained the same traction that their contemporaries in the Cure and Depeche Mode did during the same period. (It seems that, in the end, fate was against their will.)
Many acts (including indie gods Pavement) have covered “The Killing Moon,” but it’s French group Nouvelle Vague that put, in my opinion, the most original spin on the song on its Bande à Part record in 2006. Covering such a highly revered song is a tall order, to be sure, but Nouvelle Vague found a way to keep its emotional core in tact while giving it a breezy, tepid feel, which should be unsurprising on both accounts considering that A) Nouvelle Vague exists solely to execute cover songs and B) the group’s name means “bossa nova” in Portuguese. They must be doing something right because when it came time to record their third album, NV3, Ian McCulloch was ready and willing to make a guest appearance.
Cast your vote wisely.