Giving Cover Versions A Good Name: Susanna Does Joy Division

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I’ve never been a huge fan of the cover version. I’ve always found it to be a rather pointless exercise by artists and musicians whose creative well has run dry. Sometimes though, on very rare occasions, someone comes along and reinterprets the piece of music so well that they give it a whole new dimension. They uncover something that was there all along, something barely detectable and hidden away but now revealed for the world to see. Tori Amos’ cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ revealed something new: the deep pit of despair that lay in the heart of Kurt Cobain. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but her sorrowful piano reinterpretation of the song seemed a portent of Cobain’s approaching suicide. After his death,  it was her version of ‘Teen Spirit’ I kept returning to. Somehow it seemed more appropriate.

     Fast forward to the present day and there is another cover version that has spooky correlations with Tori Amos cover version. Another female vocalist uncovers the vulnerability of a male rock star who died by his own hand. Susanna and the Magical Orchestra are a duo from Norway – Susanna Wallumrod and keyboardist Morton Qvenild (there’s no Magical Orchestra) who specialise in understated, deeply personal reinterpretations of established songs by artists as diverse as AC/DC, Dylan, Depeche Mode, Leonard Cohen and KISS. Yes, KISS. Their version of ‘Crazy, Crazy Nights’ has to be heard to be believed. However, it is their take on Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, from their 2006 album ‘Melody Mountain’, that is the most affecting. Like what Tori Amos did with ‘Teen Spirit’ , Susanna strips back the song to its emotional basics, its very essence. ‘Love Will Us Apart’ is one of the greatest songs ever written but the nuances of Ian Curtis’ lyrics naturally got waylaid amongst the frantic bass and drums and guitar. Here you can really hear what he was trying to say : ‘Why is the bedroom so cold?/ Turned away on your side…Do you cry out in your sleep? /All my failings exposed…’ . Hearing these words through Susanna’s precise, crystal clear vocals will send a shiver down your spine, as if Curtis is speaking to you from beyond the grave. 

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