The way I see it, there’s two ways to do a cover version of a song. One is to try and copy the original as faithfully as possible – paying tribute to why you liked it in the first place. The second is to strip away all the original music and remake the song as your own version. Appropriately, it’s this second approach that’s been taken by Ali Clinton on his new EP, called “Versions” where he wrestles with 3 extremely familiar songs to shift them away from the world famous versions we all know, and make them his own. If you’re going to take on something like this, you might as well aim high, right? No point doing some obscure B-side or “deep cut” of some indie also-rans, and Ali has made his challenge more satisfying by taking on three songs that sounded incredible and are well loved in the first place. Ready to jump in with him? Here we go…
“A Forest”. The throbbing propulsive, dark, goth, disco, indie of The Cure’s song has been replaced by picked guitars at first, and this allows space to reveal the beauty of the song’s sung melody. A beauty that was always waiting to be revealed. The music reminded me of Howard James Kenney’s album “Shelter Songs”. Here the feeling of being “lost in a forest / all alone” is one of lonely heart break, trudging forward into the night with your collar up, rather than the desperate running, crashing, tearful upset of The Cure. As the song develops a hard handclap strongly adds the beat and layers of backing vocals push the music into some slabs of distorted powerchords and a guitar solo that builds up like the slowly rolling landslide of heartbreak. From the song’s start, I found myself wondering how Ali was going to handle Robert Smith’s famous, breathless, endless “again and again and again and again” vocal line at the song’s climax. Cannily, Ali doesn’t try to compete, instead he adds breaks in the phrases, letting it build up slowly, rather than relentlessly.
At SLAP we prefer to focus on original songs, rather than going for covers, but we chose to make an honourable exception of Ali Clinton’s “Versions”, due to his versions of the songs being such imaginative re-makes. I enjoyed listening to them because Ali made me listen afresh to these extremely familiar songs; it’s almost like hearing them again for the first time, and this helped me appreciate why I liked the songs in the first place. Does he succeed in making these songs his own? Well, the only proper way for you to get an answer to that is for you to check them out for yourself. Versions is available to stream and download at aliclinton.com
The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” takes shape as a slipping, winding ballad. The famously thunderous rhythm is dispensed with entirely. This may seem a crazy approach to a song that sits so heavily on its rhythmic drive, but actually proves very shrewd. The haunting beauty of Lennon’s melody is fully exposed before a surprising drop of rock guitars and a soaring guitar solo redolent of David Gilmour. The song finally floats away on lush layers of vocals harmonising together.
“Message in a Bottle” provides possibly the most radical remake of the lot. Ali changes the song’s rhythm, so it’s based around variations of a pulse of 3 beats rather than the more familiar 4 that is used in most pop. This breaks up the pounding drive of The Police’s original and replaces it with music that gently rocks from side to side – this castaway is still lying in his lifeboat, flat on his back contemplating the sky above him, while the waves lap the boat and set it at a gentle sway. The track builds slowly and steadily throughout, starting with plucked electric guitars, adding piano and twangy tremolo guitar, then echoey layers of vocals. Having started by changing the song’s rhythm, as it climaxes Ali dispenses with the song’s original harmony too, comprehensively changing the chords behind the melody. This gives a feel of euphoric release around the song’s famous “Sending out an S.O.S” finale. Ali plays all the many instruments on all the songs, he’s had fascinating ideas for how they sound, and they are mixed with great skill and attention to detail – he’s some talent!
By: Dan Bramhall