tremble clef

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jody Watley, "Borderline" (2006)

It's Monday. My brain isn't therefore working warticularly pell. But that can't be the only reason why I've been trying to think of successful covers of Madonna's songs, and coming up mostly blank.

Have there even been that many covers? Well, there is Virgin Voices -- Volumes 1 and 2. But good versions never seem to actually appear on such dedicated albums (see also: Pet Shop Boys, Depeche, etc.), comprised as they tend to be of fans working from their bedrooms; bands you never knew were still alive and making music, but therefore possess at least a bit of a morbid kitsch value (Sigue Sigue Sputnik! Flock of Seagulls!); and, for some totally inexplicable reason, always a high proportion of goth artists. I haven't sampled all the tracks, but, I do possess Amanda Ghost's drum-n-bass reworking of "Bad Girl," from Vol. 1, which approaches listenability.

Aside from such compilations, there have been: Ciccone Youth's "Into The Groove(y)" and "Burnin' Up," which, um, no, just no; Marc Almond's "Like A Prayer," recorded for an NME project, which is pretty over-the-top, uncharacteristically. And Australian band The Triffids once backed their 12" single of "Bury Me Deep In Love" with covers of both Pet Shop Boys' "Rent," and Madonna's "Into The Groove"; on the latter, they are barely in tune, but this is almost excused by how classic the a-side is.

Perhaps Madonna's music is too infused with her personality to be successfully covered. In this light, and given the dismal record of those who've tried, Jody Watley's version of "Borderline" must constitute a minor miracle. For the rubbery disco bass of the original, Jody substitutes a lush, seabreeze feel that slows the song down and turns it into something like a bossa nova number. Meanwhile, one of the most recognizable elements of Madonna's original -- the repeating nine-note, eight-note synth riff, which gives the song its lift -- has been simplified (Jody's version uses a piano, which plays one, and then two fewer notes each time), but also revamped (the riff now seems to descend). As a result, Jody's edition doesn't quite possess the tension, so prominent in the original, between a melancholy lyric and an upbeat rhythm; this feels less playful, more mournful, and if that's a more literal reading of the song, than at least it's not an inappropriate one. Accordingly, Jody -- using rather than hiding the rougher edge that time has bestowed on her voice -- sings the former disco classic with ruefulness and resignation, and, with that, completes the transformation.


  • Not that this departs from anything that you've said, but Jody omits that part of the lyric that makes clear that the narrator's being a tease: "Keep pushin' me, keep pushin' me, keep pushin' my love. Come on baby, come on darlin, YEAH!"

    (That being said, there is the omission of a "you" in Jody's version at 4:00-4:01.)

    By Anonymous esque, at 3:23 AM  

  • All I know is that it sounds smooth and ready for playing with a glass of wine.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 10:19 AM  

  • I knew there was something I forgot (that point about the missing coquettish bit, plus the wine).

    By Blogger Brittle, at 12:35 PM  

  • Cleoptra is notorious for releasing horrible tribute albums. They have a goth flavor because they started as a goth/industrial label and slowly started adding 80s alternative artists as they were slowly but surely dropped from the majors in the 90s adding up to the weird mix you see on the "Virgin Voices" disc. Really it's still much better than the many trance tribute albums they released with no name bedroom musicans doing "trance". There is one amazing Madge cover on the second "VV" disc which is BiGod 20's take on "Like A Prayer" which they recorded as a b-side years before the compilation so you inspired me to do a post at my blog.
    Also there was Mad'house a couple of years ago that did an all Madge cover album and their version of "Like A Prayer" was all over dance radio in the Bay Area.

    By Blogger Daft Monk, at 3:35 AM  

  • Ah, that definitely explains why the hell all these goth acts keep popping up on those tribute albums. (Of course, now I'm amusing myself by picturing a record company exec threatening supposedly tough goths, "Cover this Maddie song, or else no more studio time for you!"). Thanks for posting the BiGod cover -- for me, it doesn't quite transcend its jokiness, but it's a better effort than most.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 8:40 PM  

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