Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Two Steps on the Water

So Joe was talking about a recent cover of “Hounds Of Love,” and wondering if it represented a sufficient transformation to allow it to stand beside the original, as the best covers do. That is: if I want to listen to (say) “Can't Help Falling In Love,” sometimes I'm gonna want to listen to Elvis, sometimes to Lick The Tins, sometimes (god help me) to Luka Bloom. The same song, but different—not a replacement, but a supplement. Joe argued that this particular remake of “Hounds” was surplus to requirements because, given the choice, he couldn't imagine ever wanting to listen to The Futureheads over Kate Bush—in part because the differences seem so superficial (boy vox, loud guitars, and backbeat) as to constitute no difference at all.

But I would argue otherwise—that the Futureheads have pulled the song across genre lines, from Pop into Rock, not (just) by modifying the sonics but by reconfiguring its emotional core. There's the little differences that make all the big difference, I'm thinking.

F'rinstance: parse, if you will, the 'heads' brusque “comin' at me through the trees” vs. La Babooshka's “...coming for me”—not so much in the sense of “the difference between seeing what's coming as a form of attack and being a little bit open to the possibility of being spirited away,” as Joe opined, but more that “comin' at me” implies, to me, stark bugfuck confusion—I don't know what this is, I don't know what it wants, but holy cow! Here it comes!

Kate sings “Hounds” with the voice of someone who's known all along that love would come for her, though she's been ambivalent about it—it's been the Beast in the Jungle; though she's never seen it, she has always been aware of it lurking there. The 'head boys, though, sing like they're overwhelmed by the sheer sensation, a sensation too strong and too new to have been sorted or categorized as either promise or threat, as either fear or desire. That's what adolescence feels like—being confronted by stimuli which you as yet haven't the filters to process. The Futureheads can't even acknowledge or name the Beast at the climax: where Kate admits her need at last, the 'heads break off into a frenzied babbling (“D'you know what I need? D'you what I need? Ah-huh-yuh-yuh-yuh-yuh-yuh-yuh-yuh...”) that never resolves itself into the word “love.”

That inchoate, overwhelmed quality is, I would argue, the very essence of rock'n'roll as opposed to pop—emotional incoherence vs. self-awareness. And it's that recontextualization, that shift in tone from romantic ambivalence to overstimulated freakout, that makes this “Hounds” a rock'n'roll song—and, I think, worth listening to on its own.

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