Max Martin

Covered: “Since U Been Gone”

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.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 9 Edition)

Some #longreads that have been carefully selected for your reading pleasure…

We have spent the week blasting Deafheaven’s excellent new album, New Bermuda, over and over again.  Before you read our review of the album next week, we recommend you check out this interview with the band from VH-1, which goes into great detail about the making of the follow-up to the universally-acclaimed Sunbather.

Before Elliott Smith became a beloved solo artist, his music career began as a member of the up-and-coming Portland rock band Heatmiser.  Though the group is largely seen as a footnote to Smith’s career, they had a solid career in their own right, and are set to be inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame this weekend.  David Greenwald of The Oregonian catches up for a rare interview with the other members of Heatmiser for a look back at their career.

Alan Sparhawk from Low talks to The Skinny in a deeply personal interview, and reveals among other things the meaning behind the title Ones and Sixes.  For the record, we were on the right track with our guess about minimums and maximums in our review of the album, though we were off on the specific reference.  Another follow-up worth checking out is this Vox interview with John Seabrook, author of The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, which provides additional anecdotes about the mysterious mega-successful songwriter Max Martin.

Next week sees the release of Deerhunter’s Fading Frontier, and Bradford Cox once again provides an entertaining interview, this time with Observer.

Finally, we have our usual anniversary pieces.  First, Allmusic interviews singer Ed Kowalczyk about his former band Live’s massively successful Throwing Copper, and about his current solo acoustic tour in celebration of the album.  We are guessing that many of you did not realize that Ed had left the group, and to be honest, we did not know this either.  Then you can finish up with this look back at another huge album from 1995, Tragic Kingdom from No Doubt.  If anything, this gives you a chance to sing “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak” in your bedroom as loud as you can.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 2 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend reading pleasure…

We have now reached the point that the music press is holding celebrations for 15th anniversaries, but when it comes to albums like Radiohead’s Kid A, we do not mind indulging in that kind of silliness.  Rob Sheffield has an appreciative essay of the now-legendary record for Rolling Stone and Steven Hyden of Grantland explains how years before the innovative release of In Rainbows that Radiohead was already on the cutting edge of music and technology, with the band streaming the album weeks before its physical release.

The other major topic of the week is Max Martin, one of several Scandinavian musicians who are responsible for most of the pop hits that have infiltrated the airwaves for the past fifteen years.  The New Yorker looks at the man himself, The Atlantic takes a look at the pop-songwriting-manufacturing process, and Consequence of Sound takes a look at Martin’s career in a more easily digestible listicle form complete with video highlights.

While Martin may be helping to create a monopoly in some respects in the field of pop music, GarageBand has been said to have a more democratizing effect on the creation of music in general.  Pitchfork has a longform piece on the effects of the software.

In other anniversary news, this week marks the twentieth anniversary of Oasis’s mammoth album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, and Stereogum puts the album into historical context.  It has always been my preferred Oasis record, namely for the fact that it includes the shameless Beatles rip-off “Don’t Look Back In Anger”, one of my favorite songs of the 90’s.  I will never forget the moment when I saw an entire crowd of people join a street musician in a London tube station sing this song, with not a single person young or old forgetting a line.

We shared with you one remembrance of Wolf Parade’s Apologies to the Queen Mary last week, and we have another piece for you on one of our favorite albums.  Observer offers a behind-the-scenes look at the album, with several stories explaining the meanings and creations of each track.

As for us, we will be catching Titus Andronicus performing at Mississippi Studios tonight, and in preparation for our review you may want to check out the extensive profile of the band courtesy of SPIN.