When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Trentemøller takes on Chris Isaak’s “Blue Hotel.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
Chris Isaak’s eponymous second album was released in 1987, four years before his career would really take off with the popularization of “Wicked Game,” from 1989’s Heart Shaped World. Nonetheless, “Blue Hotel,” which is “easily the killer track on [Chris Isaak],” according to AllMusic‘s Ned Raggett, makes it clear that the songwriter was well on his way to cementing his iconic, brooding surf-pop sound long before he became so universally adored. One need not listen further than the song’s haunting opening refrain to know exactly what I mean. The combination of Isaak’s Orbison-esque baritone against James Calvin Wilsey’s woozy, six-string tremolo is by itself potent enough to alter the mood of even the most chipper listener.
Of course, when we use the word “haunting” to describe Isaak’s music, the name David Lynch invariably arises. And rightly so: Lynch was hot on Isaak from very early on, having used an instrumental version of “Wicked Game” in his 1990 film Wild At Heart, in addition to casting him two years later in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. That woozy tremolo sound would be mimicked relentlessly throughout Twin Peaks the TV series, as well. Even so, though the aesthetics of Lynch and Isaak are irrevocably intertwined, we should be careful to honor the latter on standalone terms. Rarely has a songwriter in the last 50 years channeled a quiet and lonely sorrow so convincingly.
For his part, Denmark’s Anders Trentemøller does a fine job of modernizing “Blue Hotel” in a way that feels quite different—the cover is less open and surf-y than it is industrial and urban—while delivering the same dark and wistful results. The remake is part of Trentemøller’s recent contribution to the Late Night Tales series, which has also featured compilations by Air and the Flaming Lips (among others) since its inception in 2001.