Macy Gray’s ‘Covered’ is stuff of nightmares
Published: Thursday, April 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08
It’s not often you discover an album that leaves you perplexed and frustrated in a bad way. It’s even more rare for someone to not only butcher a cover song, but do such a bad job on it that you end up hating the original because you can never un-hear the cover.
Thankfully, Macy Gray’s new album “Covered” has attained this rare goal. Her new release is chock-full of terrible covers of otherwise great songs, which come with some absolutely terrible skits and interstitials. I honestly cannot come up with a single reason this album should exist, but unfortunately, it does.
The album opens with a double-whammy of bad covers. First, Gray slows down Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again” just enough to suck out any energy before her smoky, painful vocals even come into the picture. Of course, that’s nothing compared to her next cover, one of Radiohead’s classics, “Creep.” Her damage here is unfixable even beyond the terrible synth treatment; by changing a few words, she completely removes the emotion and feeling of the song. The original’s “I don’t care if it hurts, I wanna have control” becomes “Though it may hurt, I wanna have control.” A revealing outburst of emotion in a song about a spurned lover refusing to take no for an answer becomes “Eh, whatever” in Gray’s version. This is not an improvement.
The first skit, where comedian JB Smoove just keeps mispronouncing “sword” and hoping it’ll get funny eventually, is nothing compared to the disastrous cover that comes next, Sublime’s “Smoke Two Joints.” It’s terrible by itself, considering Gray changes “man” to “woman” without making sure the next line rhymes right and she decides to scat-sing in the vocal breaks, but it’s absolutely reprehensible considering the next two tracks are a vocal clip from Gray giving young girls singing lessons and a completely rewritten cover of My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers,” where she sings the song from the perspective of the teen’s mother. It’s an interesting treatment, and I’d give her credit for it despite the strange-at-best jaunty piano accompaniment, but when a song with an anti-drug message and a clip of a singer teaching young girls to sing are right next to Gray’s gleeful cover of a stoner classic, there’s no overlooking the lack of sense.
Next up are two hilariously overwrought covers of songs Gray should never have touched, Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and AWOLNation’s “Sail.” She approaches the first with an almost lounge-singer treatment, complete with tambourines and triangles. It’s a Metallica cover, so it’s extremely obvious that’s not the right approach. The latter? Well, when a 40-something woman is covering a scream-sung dubstep-pop song featuring the recurring line “Blame it on my ADD,” you can tell it’s not going well.
Another awful skit with one of the Pussycat Dolls precedes the two songs on “Covered” that has made me dislike Gray for life. The masterful indie classic “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs is robbed of its powerful drumline and is given an off-tune, vocodered treatment by Gray. Combined with the nonstop speeding-up and slowing-down of the song, it’s a dreadful cover that’s almost ruined 10 years of Karen O for me. Then she adds her own lyrics during the solo to rub it in.
The piece-de-resistance of “Covered,” though, is her poppy, happy soul cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” Her version of West’s tormented ode to dying love comes complete with record scratches and organs, and she sings the lyrics in speedy, jazzy couplets. I will hear it in my nightmares.
Her cover of Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” turns the happy song about girlish love into a slower, sad tune that isn’t much better than the rest of her covers, but as it actually makes sense I’ll give her a pass. Unfortunately, it leads right into a cover of a song that actually harmed my soul.
“Wake Up,” the triumphant anthem from Arcade Fire’s “Funeral,” a melancholy song full of fury and pride that blows me away every time I hear it, has been turned into an off-key, choppy, neutered cover, complete with a backup chorus. Macy Gray took my favorite song and turned it into something from a second-rate Disney movie. I’m not talking “The Lion King” quality. This would be lucky to get onto “Oliver and Company.”
I have no idea what anyone involved in this album was thinking, but they probably weren’t. If you hate yourself, I recommend it.