Covered: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”

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.

Is there anybody that doesn’t appreciate “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”?  It seems like one of those songs that we can all agree is pretty great, and even though it was ubiquitous enough that we’ve all heard it, no one seems to think it was overplayed.  Just take a listen right now, and tell me that it doesn’t put a smile on your face.

Tears for Fears is touring once again, and they’re one of the headliners for this weekend’s Project Pabst festival in Portland, mixing it up with the likes of Modest Mouse, GZA, and the Thermals in a one-of-a-kind lineup.  I didn’t even know that the band had reunited, but it’s a nice surprise and I’m sure there will be plenty of people from younger generations who would love to hear “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” live for the first time.  It’s pretty much a perfect pop song–who doesn’t love those warm synth chords, those gorgeous harmonies, even that lively drumbeat and that whirling guitar part?  I never paid much attention to the lyrics, but it’s easy to see that they’re versatile enough that you can use the song in a variety of setting, from the sarcastic to the sincere.  The song represents the best of pop music trends in the 80’s, with none of the irritation.

Ted Leo has done some great covers in his time, so he was a great choice to kick off the AV Club’s “Undercover” series; unfortunately for the rest of the bands that followed that season, he was a tough opening act to follow.  For this version, he swaps out the synths for guitars, but their shimmery tone more than makes up for the switch.  It’s a tricky drum part, but Chris Wilson nails it, and even includes some of the memorable fills of the original.  And though it was only Ted on vocals, he does a great job of capturing the style of Tears for Fears, yet at the same time staying true to his own voice.

The key that makes this cover so effective is that the group commits to the song, even though they could have easily decided to toss it off as a lark.  This is especially apparent in their re-working of some of the guitar parts and the brilliant solo sections, where Ted and the Pharmacists trade off some excellent licks.  At the same time, the group keeps the feel loose enough that the performance doesn’t come off as rigid; it feels like an especially tight rehearsal, which is the best you could really aim for in that round room.

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