When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week the Great Book Of John takes on INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
For fans of legendary Aussie rock band INXS, “Never Tear Us Apart” is more than merely another great song in a catalog of many. It’s become an anthem of sorts, played while the members of INXS ferried their iconic singer Michael Hutchence in his coffin outside St. Andrews Cathedral after his untimely death in 1997, adapted in acapella style by British football fans to lend a loftiness to the matches of their favorite squads and co-opted by Bono amid live performances by U2. “Never Tear Us Apart,” the fourth break-out single from Kick, INXS’ sixth album and its most successful, would also show up in the director’s cut of 2001 cult film Donnie Darko. And these are, of course, only some of the song’s more popular applications.
“Never Tear Us Apart,” which started out as a bluesy number when it was demoed in 1986, is certainly interesting on a purely musical basis. The way it straddles the fence between lite and stadium rock without bowing to the worst tendencies of either, even with the inclusion of a Kirk Pengilly-ripped sax solo, is truly remarkable. Arguably what makes “Never Tear Us Apart” more than just a song, however, is the way Hutchence’s deeply personal lyrics reserve an intimate space for himself at the same time their themes of transcendent love and hope appeal to all. This is the power of song at its most potent, articulating the heart of a beloved artist at the same time it captures the imagination of generations. Its reach is universal without a hint of feigned intent or emotion.
In light of the classic stature of “Never Tear Us Apart,” then, it could be said that any attempt to adapt it meaningfully would be folly, not unlike the many egregious covers of “Imagine” have proved to be. In fact, as I’ve witnessed several times throughout my tenure as MAGNET’s Take Cover! scribe, our readers generally don’t take too well to artists who have the gall to pay respect to the more well-known of our heroes through a re-imagining of their work. But, if there ever were at time to do so, I hope this week you’ll put aside your adoration for an original long enough to give a new rendition a shot. The Great Book Of John’s cover is inventive and heartfelt, a nod to the song’s bluesy origins and a truly evocative introduction to a burgeoning band from Birmingham, Ala. Though worlds apart from Perth, “Never Tear Us Apart” clearly means as much in the deep South as it does in Australia.
Cast your vote wisely.