by Phil Scarisbrick
We’re now hitting the time of year when retailers start rolling out their vacuous Christmas adverting campaigns in a cynical attempt to emotionally manipulate consumers into buying their wares. As has become the tradition, they’ll soundtrack these ads with some en vogue singer wistfully belting out an eighties pop song in the style of a piano ballad. The issue with these renditions is that they generally feel like they completely lack substance. Covers can be tricky things: they either work or they don’t. One crucial criterion that can often be missed is feeling the emotional connection the artist has with the song. When they have composed that song themselves, that connection is inherent. When they’re doing somebody else’s though, it can be a little trickier. You listen to an elderly Johnny Cash singing Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, for example, and it is almost like the song was written for him. Without that connection, it is little more than karaoke.
Throughout 2019, Lucy Dacus has been releasing a series of original and cover songs on key dates such as Independence Day, Valentine’s Day and Bruce Springsteen’s birthday. These tracks are now collected into one EP to hear as a collection. The idea behind doing the project was to try and make sense of national holidays in the modern age of social media and manufactured consumerism. The resulting collection is a brilliant journey through Dacus’ psyche, as she struggles with these ideas, and brings the best out of some of the songs she is covering.
While it may not be officially a national holiday, Bruce Springsteen’s birthday is a time to celebrate one of America’s greatest songwriters. The version of Dancing In The Dark we get here flies in the face of all that is cynical about the afore mentioned ad campaign soundtracks. The song itself was an incredibly vulnerable man opening up about his inner demons to music that was full of fun and passion. This vulnerability soaks every syllable that Dacus sings, and the trashy, garage rock backing instils the same level of toe-tapping fun of the original. Her version of La Vie En Rose follows along in the same vein. Again backed by a Joan Jett-evoking instrumental, her take on the French classic sounds fresh and exciting, in a style worlds away from Edith Piaf’s rendition.
With such well known covers being in situ, it would be easy for Dacus’ originals to fall flat in comparison, but Forever Half Mast and My Mother & I are achingly beautiful – reminding us just how exciting a composer she is. The final track, Wham’s Last Christmas, arrives just in time for the holiday season, and draws to an end this wonderful project. Lovingly crafted with spell-binding results, it is hard not to love what she has created. Whatever 2020 holds for Dacus, be it another solo album or a follow up to the Boygenius EP, we’re very excited to hear it.
Secret Meeting score: 80