Of Montreal and Outback Steakhouse
Last September, a new Outback Steakhouse spot provided indie-rock fans with the year's definitive WTF TV moment. The ad unveiled an altered version of Of Montreal's engaging psychedelic-dance single "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)," its lyrics revamped, its chorus heftily reinforced and its instrumentation Aussied up with tribal rhythms and didgeridoos.
"You call that a hook?" Crocodile Dundee might ask fans of the original. "Now that's a hook."
Outraged posters at IndieHQ.com called upon Of Montreal's label, Polyvinyl, to issue a cease-and-desist order to quell this "blatant rip-off." However, the band was well aware of the appropriation. "We thought it would be totally amusing to hear their take on one of our songs," singer Kevin Barnes told Stereogum.com.
Following the five stages of grief in linear fashion, fans progressed from denial to anger. "Having a restaurant actually change the words to your song to sell overpriced foodstuffs is totally selling out," ranted one Stereogum reader.
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But this reimagined "Wraith" is unique. Usually, an unfamiliar yet engaging song used as advertising backdrop prompts Web searches, with intrigued listeners typing the lyrics into their engines. This process introduced viewers to Grandaddy, Goldfrapp and countless other underground artists whose elegiac tunes lent classy ambience to car and computer commercials. The "Wraith" ad won't spark curiosity in the uninitiated, though, because it appears to be a proprietary jingle.
On the album version, Barnes sings, "Let's pretend we don't exist, let's pretend we're in Antarctica." Outback's anonymous singer offers this invitation: "Let's go Outback tonight, life will still be there tomorrow." "Let's pretend we're in Australia" would have been a more obvious fix, but Outback's advertising execs harbor greater ambition.
Blatant plug aside, this creative phrasing, which suggests that eating at Outback is an experience that transcends life itself, preserves the original's surreal, escapist mood. Initially, this seems like a lose-lose proposition: Of Montreal lures scant new listeners while alienating a vocal segment of its existing fanbase. Perhaps the compensation the band presumably received for its melody will allow Barnes to bring a few more musicians on the road (on record, he handles most instrumental duties himself) or afford studio enhancements that will expand Of Montreal's sonic scope.
And if a few hardened purists can't forgive his corporate dalliance, well, life will still be there tomorrow.
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