Review Summary: Or: The Art of Covers by Jasmine Van den Bogaerde.
Talent shows aside, the releasing of a cover album tends to be a rare event. Often the final straw of a long-forgotten artist looking to gain a little more commercial viability, the cover album is oft derided as an unimaginative slur on the profession and habitually disregarded by fans. Despite the apparent ease of rehashing an old idea however, the best cover albums take just as much effort as an original LP; for by taking an already cherished song and modifying it just enough to justify the cover the interpreter is effectively penning a new work anyway. Whether this new direction eventually enhances or worsens the song is down to a multitude of factors, not least the skill of the singer and the tenacity with which the initial song is praised, but the risk of tarnishing what is probably somebody’s favourite song (however deluded this may make them) remains regardless. In this sense at least, releasing a cover album is a brave move indeed.
And so we come to Birdy, the latest in a line of teenage British females touted as the “next best thing”. In recent years the hyperbole surrounding any up-and-coming star from the motherland has become something of a running joke, but Birdy has a little more about her than your average “next big thing”. Propelled through the overwhelming reaction to her early single; the infamous Skinny Love
cover that debuted at number 10 on the singles chart, Birdy’s extensive palate was revealed along with her wonderfully innocent voice. In many respects, her self-titled debut is a continuation of her early promise, the covers frequently doing justice to the originals.
Whether it’s taking the fuzzy buoyancy of Phoenix’s 1901
and reinventing it with an introspectively sombre melody and hushed vocals or faultlessly masquerading Cherry Ghost’s People Help the People
as a subtle beacon of hope, Birdy manages to capitalize upon the emotional aspects of the originals and manipulate them in entirely new directions. It is when this emotional reconstruction expands upon the original ideas of the song, such as through her haunting rendition of The Postal Service’s The District Sleeps Tonight
, that Birdy surpasses her contemporaries and shows her true potential as a vocalist.
It is the times when a distinct direction for the covers isn’t evident that the record shows any hints of naivety. In her enthusiasm, Birdy occasionally oversteps her mark and takes a song in an unfavourable direction. In hindsight, covering James Taylor was perhaps a touch ambitious and Fire and Rain
pays too much homage to the great man and doesn’t deviate enough to distinguish itself. It is perhaps, unfortunate that Without a Word
, the sole foray into singer-songwriter territory, is the one track to really highlight the inexperience of youth. In isolation the track isn’t unduly poor, but when surrounded by such company, it’s hard to not notice the comparative song writing weaknesses, and tellingly it’s the only instance where the sweet vocal melodies are less than assured.
In the end, however the mini slump towards the end of the record is little more than an insignificance for Birdy
is an exhibition in the potential for covers, and with little more than her voice and some classical accompaniment Birdy has transformed these songs into her own. It’s disappointing that the only truly original piece here is also the weakest, but potential highlight Terrible Love
succeeds in ending the album on a high regardless. If Birdy can hone her song writing skills and deliver original content with the same emotional panache that she managed with the majority of these songs then she will go far. Time is on her side, and at only 15 Birdy has the potential to be this generation’s Kate Bush.
Overall 4.0 Excellent