ARTO LINDSAY / “Erotic City”
I’ve long thought that the best way for an artist to cover a song (if there is one ‘best’ way to do anything regarding music) is as if they’ve never heard the original. With rare exception, a cover version that faithfully follows the text will commit the cardinal sin of being not necessarily bad, but boring. This is particularly true in pop music where virtuosity is usually secondary to style. A seeming corollary to the ‘play it like you’ve never heard it’ rule is: avoid songs already made famous by those who do have highly original and/or recognizable styles. The safe thing to do is find good songs by relatively bland artists — in other words, songs that were underperformed the first time around — then update, adapt or otherwise put an individual stamp on said song. I say it’s a ‘seeming’ corollary because, at the moment, I’m listening to Arto Lindsay’s version of Prince’s “Erotic City” for about the fourth consecutive time and I’m still trying to convince myself that it’s for real. The audacity, you know? I’ve heard other versions of “Erotic City” and I haven’t liked any of them. Prince’s uptempo records are idiosyncratic almost to the point of self-definition. Meaning, it can be difficult to separate the quirks from the man. Think about the original. It’s usually considered a duet between Sheila E. and Prince, but I maintain that it’s a trio performance. There’s Shelia E. playing Sheila E., there’s Prince playing Prince and then there’s Prince playing Prince The Girl (who, several years hence, would return in all ‘his’ high-pitched glory as the vindictive funk goddess Camille). There’s something about a guy trying to talk a chick into sleeping with him by pretending to be a chick himself that makes you sit up and take notes, like, does that actually work? To effectively cover “Erotic City” also requires one to navigate the oddly stilted language: “How I wish you were my dame.” My dame? Next he’s going to call her a ‘lass’ or a ‘pretty.’ And speaking of ‘pretty,’ I’m fairly certain that “Erotic City” is the only time a girl’s ever been propositioned with the promise of being fucked “so pretty.” In response to this goofy nonsense (and before Prince, who would’ve thought that women find goofy nonsense even remotely sexy), Sheila is simultaneously reticent (she offers to “make some time” instead of babies) and enthusiastic (“we can fuck until the dawn”). None of it makes sense, except in a Prince kind of way, which is why I’m (a) not at all surprised that every previous attempt to cover “Erotic City” ended badly, and (b) very surprised that Arto Lindsay found a way to do it right. First things first, Arto ditched the bassline. That’s the best first step he could’ve taken because, musically at least, the bassline is the key to the record. If you were trying to get someone who couldn’t remember “Erotic City” to recall what it sounds like, you’d probably say, “The one with the beat like ‘BUUUUUM BUM-BUM, BUUUUUM BUM-BUM.’” And they’d go, “Oh! Right! ‘Erotic City.’” Arto got rid of that. In its place, he substituted a dark jumble of notes so boomy and indistinct that they sound like a car stereo subwoofer after the rest of the system conks out. He lets that amorphous mess ride for a couple bars, then starts talk/singing Prince’s lyrics: “All my purple life / I’ve being looking for a flame….” There’s no Regular Arto v. Girl Arto and he didn’t bring in anyone to do Sheila’s parts. It’s just Arto by himself and he’s playing it straight. Prince’s record is ostensibly on some sexual/spiritual/metaphysical vibe, whereas Arto is singing about this girl he really likes. I’m not saying Arto just wants to be friends – there’s no doubt he’s hoping to talk her into bed at some point too – but the two versions are like fucking vs. flirting, world’s apart.
This entry was posted on Sunday, June 24th, 2007 at 3:35 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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