Covered: “All My Friends”

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.

I am approaching one of those awful milestone birthdays, so lately I have been even more self-reflective than usual (hard to believe, I know).  As a result, as I pause to reminisce and take stock of my life, I have had LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” running in my head as a constant soundtrack.  That said, initially this article was outlined weeks ago and was prepared to be published during graduation season, so the case could be made that regardless of circumstance “All My Friends” is probably not far from my mind.  we have previously named it one of the best songs of the last decade, so as problems go, having it stuck on repeat in your head is not a bad one to have.

The foundation of the song is a simple two-chord progression, A and D, which can be most distinctly heard by listening to the bassline.  This I-IV progression creates a natural, unforced tension, as the progression makes sense when it moves from the I to the IV as well as from the IV to the I, but the way the chords are emphasized there is no real resolution.  James Murphy then exploits that tension throughout the song, constantly ratcheting up the tension as the listener expects either a resolving chord or perhaps some sort of modification to the progression; instead, Murphy layers on additional instruments and rhythms, including a memorable looping guitar line and that indelible, repetitive keyboard figure that amplify the lack of resolution.  The listener can sense an innate, organic build as the song plays, and this is the result of Murphy’s simple but ingenious sense of composition.  Murphy’s musical genius is complemented by his incisive and affective lyrics, as he perfectly captures the various anxieties of aging.  The mere fact that LCD Soundsystem created dance/electronic music with thought-provoking lyrics is to be commended, considering the history of the genre; practically every line in “All My Friends” is quotable, with each lyric dripping in both wisdom and humor.

Franz Ferdinand managed to brilliantly reconstruct “All My Friends” as a post-punk dance track, an effort that is all the more impressive considering the quick turnaround that was required to create their own version, since their cover appears on the single LCD Soundsystem released just a mere two months after the release of Sound of Silver.  Franz Ferdinand’s music has long been characterized as a revival of the post-punk genre, but this is probably the first time that their sound recalls New Order instead of Gang of Four (though the coda provides a taste of those spiky guitars we have all come to love).  The band emphasizes groove instead of tension with their cover, and though this causes the song to lose some of its power, it provides for a damn entertaining listen.  There is the same attention paid to layering different instruments and musical ideas as found in the original, with guitars and keyboards floating in and out of the mix; if you listen closely, you can pick out a hint of the memorable piano riff from the original version poking through on the second verse.  To top it all off, Alex Kapranos delivers an impassioned vocal performance with his distinctive style that even if it is unable to capture the angst of the original still manages to thrill the listener.

In the course of researching for this feature, I came across Australian radio station Triple J’s recurring series “Like A Version”, which provides musical guests with the opportunity to play a cover.  Many of these covers straddle the line between passable and underwhelming, but there was one that stood out above the rest as a truly outstanding performance.  I had never heard of the band Gang of Youths before, but their cover of “All My Friends” convinced me that I need to correct that problem immediately.  Unlike Franz Ferdinand, Gang of Youths attempted a more straightforward cover, and do an excellent job of mimicking the feel of the original (though the use of chorus effect-laden guitars provides an interesting bridge between the FF version and the original).  They push the beat with their insistent drumming and tap into the song’s inherent tension, and by emphasizing these components, the band is able to transfer their energy and restlessness into creating a memorable performance.  It is clear that the group has a deep love and respect of the song, and that this is not a mere exercise in burnishing their indie credentials.  Their passion really comes through in their performance, and is a key part of what makes this such a wonderful cover to listen to again and again.

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