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.
After reading all these articles about the omnipresent-yet-invisible songwriter Max Martin, as well as seeing Tokyo Police Club perform a version of the song, I have now thought about the song “Since U Been Gone” far more in the past few weeks than at any other point previously in my life. It is definitely one of the modern pop songs that bothers me the least, though that is in no small part due to the fact that I was able to avoid hearing it repeated ad nauseam during its initial lifespan. The fact that it is also a well-constructed song also works in its favor, with a great dynamic contrast between the soft verses and loud chorus, as well as that big hook in that memorable chorus melody. There must be a reason why indie rock fans would cop to liking this song…
Oh yeah, that reason would be because Martin in fact looked to indie rock for songwriting inspiration. Not only did he co-opt that trademark Pixies loud/soft contrast, but he reworked a previous hit song, “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He even admits this was his intention. From The Atlantic, paraphrasing from John Seabrook’s recent book, The Song Machine:
They are listening, reportedly, to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps”—an infectious love song, at least by indie-rock standards. Martin is being driven crazy by the song’s chorus, however, which drops in intensity from the verse. Dr. Luke says, “Why don’t we do that, but put a big chorus on it?” He reworks a guitar riff from the song and creates Kelly Clarkson’s breakout hit, “Since U Been Gone.”
It is hilarious that Martin misunderstands that the drop in intensity was an intentional maneuver on the part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and helped strengthen the impact of the lyrics. In a nutshell, that explains the difference between the approaches to songwriting in pop and indie rock–why be subtle when you can shout your intentions at the top of your lungs? In this case, both ways worked.
But we should give kudos to Ted Leo for spotting the similarities between the two songs years before it was confirmed, and smoothly blending the two into a seamless whole. The “Since U Been Gone/Maps” mash-up ends up being a good primer for the Ted Leo novice, as it shows both his vocal range and guitar chops (even with a minor flub at the end of the bridge taken into consideration), which helps elevate the cover above the standard “fans playing a favorite song in their bedroom” that can be found all over YouTube. And it is proof once again that Ted Leo is the fucking coolest dude on the planet.