Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Song for a Crappy Tuesday (February Covers Edition)

Covers are a delicate art form. One "Too-Right" move, and your emo-indie-garage band with a respectable following can be catapulted into the national arena. This might be a dream for the hapless rockers who stumbled onto the pulse of American Pop Culture. But it can also sound their death nell.

Take, for instance, Alien Ant Farm and their cover of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal.

Alien Ant Farm's cover does exactly what a good cover should: It takes the original, remixes it in the signature style of the covering band, and (in the best cases) expands and illuminates the lyrical/musical themes already existing in the initial release.

The lyrics to Smooth Criminal are pretty violent - lots of references to bloodstains, broken glass, and being struck down. It's an action packed thriller (no pun intended) of a song. Who's Annie? Jeez. What happened to her?

The arrangement works, too, with the whispering danger and darting rhythm, then exploding in the chorus with cries of "Are you okay?"

Then we come to Alien Ant Farm. They take the original and exploit the violence with relentless neo-punk speed. The thing never lets up. It brings the romanticized Smoothness of MJ's hit into a grittier, meaner realm. When I hear this version I can't help but see myself in some Paul Greengrass chase sequence.

In Michael Jackson's version, Annie might still be alive. In Alien Ant Farm's she is so totally dead.

Regardless of AAF's virtuosity in claiming Smooth Criminal as their own, it landed them square in the viewfinder of the One Hit Wonder sniper. The band experienced quite a few stumbling blocks after this song's release - it must suck to play a gig and have most of the crowd go slack jaw until you play that one song they like.

At any rate, as covers go...this is a pretty good one.

Here is the late, great MJ in the Smooth Criminal original, featuring his patented Anti-Gravity Lean shoes, and the mini-movie format:

And now for Alien Ant Farm

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