Track Review: The Decemberists
“Bridges & Balloons” (Joanna Newsom Cover)
It’s only fitting that indie rock’s most literate troubadour chose a song written by psych folk’s eclectic princess to cover on “Picaresqueties”, a modest collection of post-“Picaresque” extras and b-sides. It makes perfect sense, in fact. It’s even easy to imagine how Meloy’s version would sound without even hearing it. And, while he most assuredly does justice to the wonderful song, it’s nothing if not predictable.
Meloy trades in Newsom’s jumpy fingerpicking for a simple strum pattern, drops the vocal melody down a couple octaves (naturally), and voila, that’s all there is to it. Though his vocal idiosyncrasies pale in light of Newsom’s, Meloy’s unique delivery keep the song interesting enough, especially when he tries to hit the high notes in the chorus and misses by a fraction. Essentially, the whole track is a watered down version of Newsom’s—still strange and fun, but by no means the tribute to unconventional musicianship offered by the original.
There is only one aspect in which the Decemberists’ version surpasses Newsom’s. While Newsom’s vocal performance often distracts listeners from the actual lyrics, Meloy’s more accessible approach brings her sublime verses to the forefront. I must, most regrettably, admit that, previous to hearing his version, I had not heard the wonderful, “I can recall our caravel / a little wicker beetle shell / with four fine masts and lateen sails / its bearings on Cair Paravel.”
So for those of you (and I know there are many) who can't stand Joanna Newsom’s sometimes abrasive but undeniably singular talent, the Decemberists’ version gives you the best of both worlds. But for those of you who have adjusted to Newsom’s style, the ultimate acquired taste, Meloy’s version is pretty much the same thing, only with half the charm.
The Decemberists - Bridges & Balloons
Joanna Newsom - Bridges & Balloons
- Dominick Duhamel -
Tags: Colin Meloy, The Decemberists, Joanna Newsom, mp3