Covered: “Fade Into You”

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.

“Fade Into You” is one of the most enduring songs of the 90’s, even if many of its fans never learned the name of the song or the band that performed it.  It’s a gorgeously melancholic ballad, the kind of tune that’s perfect for long moonlit drive down a long country road.  The song is malleable enough that it can fit between just about any mood, from somber and pensive to relaxed and content;  it’s the perfect soundtrack to either a night of solemn, longing regret or perhaps peaceful joy with satisfied companion.  I never fully became a fan of Mazzy Star, but the brilliance of this song forces me to try again every so often.

Musically, it’s built on several wonderful little sonic details, from the haunting lead slide guitar lines, to those piano figures that accent the end of each phrase, to that laid-back yet insistent acoustic guitar with its loping waltzing rhythm, with Hope Sandoval’s breathy, ethereal vocals softly hanging above the mix.  The song is built on a slightly unconventional take on the normal three-chord structure, progressing in a IV-I-v structure, with the dominant five chord played as a minor chord.  This slight violation of normal harmonic theory gives the song its edge, as each line in the song seems unsettled because the chords haven’t resolved properly; it’s what gives the song its mournful atmosphere.

The last time we did this feature, we looked at Dinosaur Jr. dismantling and giving a shot of energy to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”.  This time, J Mascis takes a different approach with his contemplative and respectful version of the song.  It actually fits with his style as a solo act; for an artist that’s known for letting loose with blistering solos at the loudest possible volume with his regular gig, J often takes a more measured and thoughtful approach as a solo artist, and often indulges in acoustic ballads.

With this cover, J keeps it simple with just two guitars.  The rhythm guitar track is played with a softer, looser feel than the original, with the kind of touch that either indicates softer strings or perhaps strummed without a pick.  The lead is also done on an acoustic guitar, with meandering yet melodic lines dipping in and out throughout the track.  J’s leads, though omnipresent, often remain in the background, but when they poke through to the forefront are never showy.  Each line is not meant to purely dazzle the listener with technical wizardry (even though they are often impressive), but instead offer variations and comments on melodies from the vocals and in the original.

Then again, over a 30 year career we’ve come to expect this from J, at least from a guitar-playing perspective.  Here, J’s vocals also help produce a great cover: J’s unique vocal style has that particular vulnerable quality that really helps bring out the fragile beauty inherent in the music.  His voice may not be technically perfect, but in this case the imperfections become an asset by helping to enhance the delicate emotional complexity of the song.


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