Tuesday, September 1, 2009
#121. 'She's trying to replace me, but it'll never work'
Pulp "Bad Cover Version"
You think you can tell what side of a breakup someone was on based on their reactions, but in my experience it's not always cut and dry. Depending on the tone of the relationship, the people involved, any number of external or internal factors can make the former couples' reactions cover a full spectrum of emotion. The dumper might be the depressed one whose indulging in their own little pity party and the dumped might have a spring in his or her step as they go merrily on their way. In song though, you only ever seem to hear from the depressed party. Break up songs are for the most part fairly downbeat for whatever reason, maybe because it's bad form to appear happy at the end of a relationship of any kind unless there's some level of distance form the event itself. Of course there are exceptions, and they're the ones I'm invariably more drawn to.
The thing with "Bad Cover Version" is that while it works as an upbeat breakup song (or at least an upbeat song in the wake of a breakup) it could also be one of the saddest ones out there. Something about Jarvis Cocker's entire persona has an undercurrent of overcompensation running through it. This Is Hardcore capitalized on it more than anything, but the more I look at "Bad Cover Version" the more I get to thinking that it's got more to do with self delusion than anything. Not to attempt to play armchair psychologist here, but what's the most likely reason for referring to any attempt your ex makes to move on as a 'bad cover version' of what you had with her? Either yours was the doomed love to end all doomed loves and you both know that nothing will ever top it, or you're trying your hardest to convince yourself of that so you can 'win' your breakup. So what's on the surface a witty, playful tune is really just a pitiful display of self delusion from a wounded man who can't let anyone see how much the whole situation stings.
What makes it work though is the fact that Cocker's a marvelous lyricist. Sure the central idea of the song is a bit of a cliche, but by the time he's gotten around to comparing whatever new relationship his ex has gotten into to the second side of Scott Walker's 'Til the Band Comes In the levels of dedication to the central conceit are hard to argue with. The breadth of allusions Cocker folds in to the song is a credit as well. 'Bad cover versions' are omnipresent in pop culture, and getting more so every year it seems, so to hear him using that as a jumping off point to compare the post-him world of his ex to imitation corn flakes, the TV version of Planet of the Apes and The Rolling Stones' past 2 decades of existence within less than a minute just warms my geeky, geeky heart. The one quality I'd say makes Cocker among my favorite lyricists is how much he commits to whatever trope his songs hinge on, and this is a great example of that.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the video, where bad cover versions of famous artists perform a bad cover version of "Bad Cover Version" (layers abound!) since it's among the most hilarious of the decade. So there you go: it's great and if you didn't watch it at the top of the post you should do so right now. Words can't do it justice, although it's another example of Cocker's self aggrandizement (imagining his band would inspire a Band Aid-like tribute upon their demise) getting undercut in some way (by having the whole thing done by imitations.) A fitting little epitaph to their career is it not?
Coming up tomorrow: Twee as fuck or the power of the guitar riff