Arcade Fire's Bad Covers, Radiator Hospital's Thrifty Ideals
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.
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.
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, woodlandscenter.org. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.
Meet Radiator Hospital, DIY for the 2010s.
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.'"
As the '90s rear their head for a pop-culture resurgence, wherein throwback formats like tapes fight for a wistful comeback, Cook-Parrott's DIY aesthetic seems anything but trendy.
"The beautiful thing about DIY music and culture is, it's the most natural way to do things," he says. "We're just making music, and doing it in the most natural way. We think, 'OK, there's this show happening – let's play it.' Or, 'We wrote these songs – let's record them.'
"I mean, I don't even know another way to do it," he admits. "Do you get a PR person who sends your record to Rolling Stone? Or do you get sponsored by Vitamin Water, or something? I wouldn't even know how to do that."
In lieu of high-profile publications and bigwig advertising endorsements, Cook-Parrott sticks to the essentials of recording and touring. Radiator Hospital is currently touring as opening support to Waxahatchee, whose band members are old pals (and former roommates) of his.
"They're like our best buddies," he says of Waxahatchee. "Last year, we all lived in a house together in Philly — the same house where we recorded Something Wild, and where Waxahatchee recorded [2013 LP] Cerulean Salt. I'm super-excited they're getting a lot of attention, because it's totally deserved."
Cook-Parrott, too, is deserving of such acclaim. He's currently writing material for his next album – which, unsurprisingly, will also be home-recorded and released on cassette tape. He hopes to release this new album by summer's end, giving you ample time to dig up and dust off your old cassette player. And when you're inevitably reeling in the nostalgic glory of days past, you'll have Radiator Hospital to thank.
Radiator Hospital and Waxahatchee play Friday, April 4 at Mango's, 403 Westheimer, mangoshtx.com. Doors open at 9 p.m.
Ask Willie D
A young mother on her own needs some advice.
Dear Willie D:
I am a single mother of two teenagers and one preteen. I sometimes find myself at a point where I don't think I can make it anymore when it comes down to providing for my family. Both of my daughters lost their fathers to violence a few years back, and my son's father is in his life but I receive no child support. My family and I are not as close as a family should be.
I often wonder if I should get a second job, but with three kids at home — one of whom is only 11 and at the age where he needs me home more to give him the attention that kids need at that age — I don't know. What's your best advice to me on how to get through this single-mother struggle?
The first thing you should do when money is tight is cut back on your lifestyle. Look around and eliminate anything costing you money that you don't need: cable TV, cigarettes, alcohol, cleaning services, credit cards, Starbucks, name-brand clothes and anything else you can think of. Take your lunch to work, don't eat out, and if you drive an expensive car, downsize to something less expensive but reliable. Get the son's father to help out voluntarily or put the courts in his life.
I admire the fact that although you're thinking of taking a second job, you're considering how the time away from home might affect your kids. Lord knows in this day and time we need more parents spending quality time with their kids. With so many people having success working from home today, that may be a good option for you also. If everything works out, you might be able to quit your first job and work full-time from home.
Remember, whatever you decide to do your situation is temporary, not permanent. You just need to make some adjustments until you can get on your feet. I know life seems gloomy at the moment, but it gets better. Sometimes we have to crawl in the dark before we can walk in the light.
Ask Willie D appears Thursdays on Rocks Off.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.