Imitation is the highest form of flattery they say, but that's not always the case.
When it comes to covering an artist, things can go both ways, as we've learned from the plethora of cover songs in 2018. While some of them paid homage to the original with deep reverence, a select few arguably surpassed the original — a rare moment that pops up every now and then in music history. There were even some bizarre propositions that just didn't sound right on paper, but were executed with surprising grace.
At the same time, there were some well-intentioned attempts that didn't really come out right and, of course, the occasional cover that makes you wonder what exactly the artist was thinking. Or whether they were thinking at all.
Looking back at the strange and wonderful musical year that has been 2018, here is our pick of the best and the worst of the year, from toe-curling eargasms to nail-on-chalkboard assaults.
LCD Soundsystem - 'Home / I Want Your Love' (Chic cover)
Always one to wear their influences on their sleeves, LCD Soundsystem covered Chic’s 1978 track 'I Want Your Love' for the Spotify Singles series earlier this year. The NYC dance-punk icons interpolated the track with one of their own smash hits, 'Home,' from their 2010 album 'This Is Happening.' The result is a glorious, 10-minute banger with a seamless transition that shows the many facets of LCD as they warp Chic's track into their own aesthetic. Keyboardist Nancy Wong fills in for the female vocals in the second half of the song, adding some flair to her impeccable synth work.
The timing of the cover couldn't have been more apt considering Nile Rodgers & Chic released their comeback album 'It’s About Time' this year marking the group’s first album in 26 years.
Tanya Tagaq and Damian Abraham – 'Run To The Hills' (Iron Maiden Cover)
One of the unlikeliest metal covers of the year came from the duo of Tanya Tagaq and Damian Abraham. Tagaq is a Polaris prize-winning Inuk throat singer with a vocal range that goes far beyond most ordinary human beings and Abraham's high-powered death growls will be familiar to fans of Canadian hardcore outfit Fucked Up. The duo teamed up for a cover of Iron Maiden's hit song 'Run To The Hills' and the unique treatment is what makes the cover so gripping. Unlike the original that is driven by Bruce Dickenson's powerful balladry, the cover opens with Tagaq whispering the verses with an eerie, breathy release that sets the mood for what's to come — a haunting reimagination of a song written by an Englishman about the genocide of the natives in North America that reads less like a power ballad and more like a funeral dirge.
Kamasi Washington - 'Fists of Fury' (James Wong, Joseph Koo, Ku Chia Hui cover)
For the opening track to his sprawling 2018 double album 'Heaven and Earth', jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington took the theme song to the Bruce Lee film 'Fist of Fury', pluralized the number of clenched hands to add extra firepower and turned it into a biting political anthem. The nine-minute fusion jazz symphony has a groove that captures the spirit of '70s exploitation films, with sax solos that emulate the sound of John Coltrane, and a message that resonates with the current socio-political landscape. When vocalists Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible call out, “Our time as victims is over/We will no longer ask for justice/Instead we will take our retribution,” it captures the very essence of the political frustration of 2018.
Superorganism - 'Congratulations' (MGMT / Post Malone cover)
The eight members of Superorganism hail from across the globe, so it’s no surprise that they draw from a host of disparate influences. That being said, it takes a certain amount of audacity to blend songs by one of the coolest artists in the world with one of the least. But they do just that, mixing parts of MGMT’s era-defining track ‘Congratulations' with the goofy Post Malone hit of the same name. But that barely scratches the surface of the overwhelming maximalist pop of the global octet. They throw in samples from Jack Black in 'School of Rock', some flutes and some barely-there sound effects by firing off confetti cannons and clinking soda glasses. It all rolls into one mind-bending cover of two artists that couldn’t be more disparate in their works.
Weezer - 'Africa' (Toto cover)
Musically speaking, Weezer's cover of Toto's 'Africa' is not one of the best covers of the year. Far from it, probably. But the context which gave rise to the song is what puts them here. After a 14-year old girl started a Twitter campaign for Weezer to cover the infectious '90s hit, the band finally obliged, bringing an internet meme and in-joke to life. What's weirder? It gave both Weezer and Toto their first chart-topper in a decade and might have inadvertently scored Weezer a Grammy nomination. To keep things nice and light-hearted, they even brought Weird Al in to play accordion in the music video to the song! We're hoping this meme-rock wave dies in its inception but there's no denying that the whole affair was hilarious.
Metallica - 'When Doves Cry' (Prince cover)
While out on their sprawling ‘Worldwired’ tour in support of their new album, Metallica decided to pay tribute to each of their stops by picking one song by a local hero and covering it. The gimmick was called 'Rob & Kirk's Doodle' as the rest of the band stepped away, allowing bassist Robert Trujillo and guitarist Kirk Hammet to take the spotlight for a set of stripped-down covers. The whole idea doesn't sound that good on paper to begin with, but the cringeworthiness of the execution will make your hair stand up straight.
Out of the dozen or so mangled 'covers' that they half-heartedly tossed up through the tour (they covered ABBA in Sweden, A-Ha in Norway and Scorpions in Germany), the clear winner for the absolutely gut-wrenchingly worst goes to the cover of Prince's 'When Doves Cry' that they performed at the Purple One's hometown of Minneapolis, MN. Trujillo's singing is god-awful and there's nothing Hammett can really do to save the day. Just the crowd's reaction in the video above should give you an idea of the atmosphere in the stadium. Fun fact: The official video uploaded by Metallica has 2.7 thousand likes and 4.7k dislikes. The other 400,000 odd people obviously closed the video and ran to the nearest exit.
Alt-J - 'House Of The Rising Sun (feat. Tuka)' (The Animals cover)
Last year, Alt-J returned with their third studio album 'Relaxer', which was not all that bad overall. But a particular highlight of the otherwise average album was a hair-raising, haunting, dystopian cover of The Animals classic 'House of the Rising Sun'. Languid and mellow in it's build to a frighteningly good cover, Alt-J slowed down the tempo to nearly half as they drowned the song in swelling, atmospheric sounds. The way they changed the tone of the folk ballad and repurposed it for the modern era was sheer genius. Then, in 2018, for some reason, they decided to go ahead and remix the entire album, along with the Animals cover as well. They tapped Australian hip-hop artist Tuka for the remix, who added a bunch of flat verses and a cringe-worthy hook that goes "Party like an Animal". Then they sampled so little of their actual cover and let Tuka add more tone-deaf verses into the mix. By the end of it, you can barely tell that it's a cover at all. Or a remix. Or even music for that matter.
Buckcherry – 'Head Like A Hole' (Nine Inch Nails Cover)
More respectable acts than Buckcherry have tried covering NIN's cult classic 'Head Like A Hole' and failed. Bands like Devo, AFI and even Korn have tried their hand and come up short. One would think bands would start leaving it untouched by now and just give up. Apparently not. The latest contenders are Californian emo rockers Buckcherry, who might just have outdone all the other failed attempts by doing the worst thing you can do on a cover — render it as faithfully you can, note-to-note, without adding any original imagination. In the few spots where they do try to add their own touch, it feels even worse as they methodically undo everything Trent Reznor intended to do with the industrial rock classic. The only thing that could have made the cover worse is if a Christian rock band covered it. Oh wait, they're called Showbread, they have covered it and it was still better than Buckcherry's. My bad!
Yoko Ono - 'Imagine' (John Lennon cover)
Yes, Yoko Ono is still making music. In fact, she released a new album called 'Warzone' this year. She's 85 years old in case you're wondering. On John Lennon's 70th birthday, (October 10), Yoko decided to release a cover of 'Imagine', which also features on the album. Technically, it's not a cover because, in 2017, after a long struggle, Yoko won co-writing credits to the song. So one would think that she would do justice to a piece of music that she fought so hard to stamp her name on. Apparently not. It sounds like the homeless lady in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 covering The Beatles. Some may call the cover a sparse, minimalistic one, but that's only because it sounds like Yoko fell asleep while hitting each key on the synth and someone had to wake her up between notes.