By Gregory AdamsCover songs are a tricky thing. On the one hand, many artists pride themselves on their ingenuity and originality, and opt to reconfigure a classic to the point where listeners can't understand the point of reference. Other times, a straight-up redo often times just sound lazy and uninspired. There seems to be no right or wrong way to go about it, so long as you put your heart in it. Here are a few covers that hit the mark in 2012 no matter what route the artist chose.
Top 10 Cover Songs of 2012:
10. The Rosebuds Love Deluxe (Sade full-album cover)
North Carolina indie duo the Rosebuds cocked heads late this year when they opted to drop a full-album cover of British R&B band Sade's Love Deluxe. Many will recognize the heart-tugging strains of "No Ordinary Love," but other replicated highlights include the saxophone-assisted bedroom funk of "Mermaid" and soft-jazz sizzler "Couldn't Love You More." Let's not fool ourselves: singer Ivan Howard's falsetto comes nowhere near to matching the sensual height of Sade Adu, but we're still pretty impressed by the devotion to the original album.
9. Bill Fay "Jesus, Etc." (Wilco cover)
Cult English folk figure Bill Fay got back in the game this year with Life Is People, his first proper studio album in 41 years. While the lush and lovely, orchestrated outing offered up some gorgeous originals, Fay reserved some space to pay tribute to the boys of Wilco (Jeff Tweedy has been a longtime Fay champion) and their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot track "Jesus, Etc." Rather than offer it up as a laid-back but funky rambler, Fay transforms the tune into a fantastically frail piano piece.
8. St. Vincent "Some of Them Are Old" (Brian Eno cover)
St. Vincent (aka art rock star Annie Clark) issued her stunning collaborative set Love This Giant with David Byrne this year, and also managed to toast her Talking Head buddy's on-and-off partner in crime Brian Eno via a minimalist interpretation of the dude's Here Come the Warm Jets track "Some of Them Are Old." Clark's cover ditches the droning synths, flutes and huge vocal harmonies of the original, but homes in on the song's emotional core via her intoxicating coo and supple guitar work.
7. Cold Specks "Reeling the Liars In" (Swans cover)
Cold Specks (aka Al Spx) received widespread acclaim over her cryptic "doom soul" debut I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, but the Etobicoke, ON-bred singer-songwriter cast her gaze towards an explicitly eerier direction when she covered post-punks Swans' 2010 song "Reeling the Liars In." She pumps pretty piano plunks higher in her mix, and her gospel vocal style hits softer than beloved ghoul Michael Gira. But Spx still retains the frightening spirit of the folky original as she readies herself to watch the flames of revenge lick higher and higher up into the sky.
6. Divine Fits "Lost" (Frank Ocean cover)
A lot of people got hooked on the Frank Ocean this year, from Kitty Pryde cribbing "Thinkin Bout You" hook on "OK Cupid" to the Afghan Whigs announcing their return with a steamy version of "Lovecrimes." Supergroup trio Divine Fits' live take on "Lost" was the most convincing, however, because the stripped-down arrangement of stark guitar stabs, a steady backbeat and lilting key lines fit scratchy-throated songsmith Britt Daniel's basic M.O. in the Fits and Spoon perfectly.