Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.
Today’s inspiration comes from the simple fact that I was listening to the underrated punk band Mclusky this afternoon. They’re now defunct, but they left us with some classic post-hardcore albums that are an excellent mix of fiery intensity and bitterly sarcastic humor. Just taking a look at their album titles should give a clue about the latter (My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours and The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not On Fire come to mind, but knowing the allusion of Mclusky Do Dallas is hilarious as well).
“To Hell With Good Intentions” is one of my favorites, with its string of ridiculous boasts for each verse, mirrored by the nonsensical response of “My love is bigger than your love” and punctuated by the simple warning of the chorus: “We’re all going straight to hell.” Musically, it’s spare, simple, and direct, marked most notably by a rhythmic bass hit that emphasizes each line.
It turns out that these elements help make the song an excellent song to cover. I had a friend whose band used to cover this song, and honestly, it was probably the best song they did–and all they had to do was pretty much play it note-for-note. The song has a natural energy and bounce, and accomplishes the trick of allowing the vocalist to attempt to be more theatrical while the backing instrumentation can focus on the tight music. Also, by the end of the song, even if the audience wasn’t familiar with the song, they’ll be able to sing along.
Japandroids are a much much much much better band than my friend’s band, so it should be no surprise that they perform an excellent version of the song. There’s the necessary musical adjustment from a bass-guitar-drums trio to a guitar-drums duo, with Brian King merging the original’s bassline into a denser overall guitar part. Japandroids also indulge the natural tendency that occurs when covering punk songs, and that’s to play it faster–but they don’t let the tempo get away from them, meaning that they’re able to convey all the urgency they want from the song, but they keep it constrained well enough that it never feels like rushing. A lot of credit should be given to David Prowse’s excellent drumming, both for his timekeeping and his spot-on fills.
Here’s a live version of the Japandroids cover, this time in a more sedate setting: