Arcade Fire's Bad Covers, Radiator Hospital's Thrifty Ideals

Arcade Fire is pretentious enough already — why do they have to butcher these beloved songs, too?


Cook-Parrott: "It didn't occur to me that putting out a tape is weird."

Woodlands expats Win and Will Butler and the rest of their Montreal-based band, Arcade Fire, make lightweight pretentious rock for hipsters and bored suburban kids. That's fine, because it's a market that apparently Jason Mraz wasn't cornering quite well enough.

But now they have crossed the line with me. On their current tour behind fourth album Reflektor, which pulls into the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Wednesday, they've taken to covering classic songs with pretty much the results you might expect for a band of this, ahem, caliber. So here and now, I would like to respectfully request that Arcade Fire please, please, please stop covering these songs.

Arcade Fire has plenty of their own songs...why do they need to play INXS and Boyz II Men?
Guy Aroch/ShoreFire Media
Arcade Fire has plenty of their own songs...why do they need to play INXS and Boyz II Men?

INXS, "Devil Inside"

Now, anyone who has heard the original knows that "Devil Inside" requires a certain level of sultry seductiveness. It more or less represents INXS's look at the coke-and-hookers scene of the '80s. It was a rock song by some standards, but with a swagger clearly co-opted from classic soul.

But Arcade Fire's version ditches the swagger to just beat the holy hell out of the song for some reason. Apparently they felt "Devil Inside" didn't hit hard enough, so their drummer decided to speed up the tempo and hit his drums like he was playing a Metallica song.

Little did I know this would set the standard for future Arcade Fire covers, and that they would become increasingly more ludicrously unfit for this treatment.

Prince, "Controversy"

How well do you suppose a "Controversy" cover would turn out for any rock band, no matter how milquetoast? Surprise of surprises, Arcade Fire butcher it. Through the song's entirety, they take the same full-steam approach they took to INXS, even though it makes even less sense to play Prince this way.

Worse still is singer Win Butler's insistence on performing the song in the style of Boris Karloff. Prince, already possessed of an unusually high voice, sang much of the original in falsetto. Seemingly uncomfortable with that, Butler approaches it with a macho recitation that is completely baffling.

The band completely misses out on the funk swagger that drives the original; this cover sounds more like a bouncy arena anthem than a funk track straight out of Minneapolis. One thing you never, never, never do when approaching a Prince song is try to make it rock. Only Prince can make Prince songs rock.

Boyz II Men, "Motownphilly"

Arcade Fire's latest shoddy attempt at covering soul is taking on this New Jack-era classic. Even though I don't share the kind of personal affection for "Motownphilly" a "Controversy" or "Devil Inside," I can still hear how egregious what they're doing to the song is.

How many attempts will it take before ­Arcade Fire realizes they have no swagger, no funk, no soul? Right now they're just unfortunately subjecting live audiences to these abominations, but it's only a matter of time before they get the idea that one of these things is good enough to record in a studio. On that day, we all will weep.

So please, Arcade Fire, just stop now. Quit while you're relatively ahead and stick to what you're already not very good at.

Arcade Fire plays Wednesday, April 9 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands, Gates open at 6:30 p.m.

Inquiring Minds

Tape Delay
Meet Radiator Hospital, DIY for the 2010s.

Neph Basedow

At 22 years old, Radiator Hospital auteur Sam Cook-Parrott was just a baby during the early '90s, when the DIY ethic worked its way into rock music for good. He definitely carries on that modus operandi in Radiator Hospital, more often than not his one-man band.

While other bands often describe their lo-fi sound as "bedroom" pop, Radiator Hospital exemplifies the genre; all of Cook-Parrott's albums have literally been recorded in his own bedroom (or basement), by himself or with the help of his friends.

Despite the quality sound of Radiator Hospital's 2013 album Something Wild, it too was recorded in Cook-Parrott's own basement in Philadelphia, with the help of his engineering-savvy friend Kyle Gilbride. A feverish collection of punk-tinged guitar pop, the LP "sounds like a pro record" despite its modest production, according to Cook-Parrott.

He sometimes crowdsources his many musician friends to record full-band albums, including Something Wild; generally, however, Cook-Parrott records on his own as Radiator Hospital.

"I like recording by myself," he explains. "It's fun to play all the instruments and mess around with different sounds. I can't always make great-sounding high-fidelity records," he says, acknowledging certain limitations that accompany home recording. "But I can – and will – always make records."

Like most young musicians, Cook-Parrott appreciates affordable avenues, and recording at home certainly cuts costs.

"It seems silly to spend a bunch of money on recording when I can do it myself, or have my friends do it for super cheap," he says.

Furthering his thrifty ideals, Cook-Parrott usually releases Radiator Hospital albums on cassette tapes.

"They're affordable, portable and accessible," he says. "I've grown up with tapes, CDs, records, 8-tracks...all sorts of stuff. It didn't really occur to me that putting out a tape was weird until people were like, 'Whoa, you guys put out tapes?!' And I'm like, 'Yeah, who cares? It's just a tape.'"

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Maybe Arcade Fire should just stop playing music period. 

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