Lorde’s cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” — one of the more intriguing tracks on the now-streamable Catching Fire soundtrack — caught the Internet’s gaze this week, popping up on countless music blogs, Twitter feeds and Tumblr dashboards. You might even say it caught fi…
No wait! Come back!
I’m sorry, I know that was a terrible pun. Can we start over? Let’s start over.
Lorde’s cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” — one of the more intriguing tracks on the now-streamable Catching Fire soundtrack — caught the Internet’s gaze this week, popping up on countless music blogs, Twitter feeds and Tumblr dashboards. And while I usually try to avoid adding to coverage gluts like this one, I want to make a quick point about Lorde’s effort and why I’ve found it to be so exceptional.
Anyone can pick up an guitar/ukulele/glockenspiel and upload a cover song to YouTube or Soundcloud, but what makes a cover worthwhile? Proficiency is one thing — it’s always nice to hear people play the right chords and sing the right notes — but with so many talented singers and glockenspielers out there, proficiency’s filter isn’t nearly dense enough. Distinctiveness helps, but being different doesn’t always equate with being good. One solid criterion is whether the coverer brings something new to the table, either by tinkering with the source material or by contributing a talent that the source didn’t exhibit. I think it’s fair to say that Lorde has done that here by changing the spirit of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” completely, playing to both her strengths and the movie’s embattled, post-apocalyptic atmosphere. But Lorde’s track does something more. In fact, I’d say it fulfills the highest purpose a cover song can aspire to fulfill: It fixes the original.
…for me, at least.
I need to backtrack a bit here. Objectively speaking, there’s nothing broken about Tears for Fears’ greatest hit. After all, it’s a hit song. It sold tons of records, it won awards, it’s been licensed for TV, movies, video games… by all reasonable measures it’s an extremely highly functioning piece of music. But speaking subjectively, I’ve never liked it. It makes me uneasy, and after a few days of thinking and a conversation with bandmate 4eva Doug, I’m still not totally sure why. I know that those two synthy chords — the descending “Dahhhhh dahhhhhh” that much of the Western Hemisphere would recognize instantly — make my skin crawl. Save some repressed childhood trauma that unfolded while the song was playing in the background, I’d guess that it has something to do with ambiguity of mood.
Those chords don’t provide any insight into how the narrator feels about everybody wanting to rule the world. They sound more like chords you’d play while someone else in your jazz ensemble is soloing, or like music a 90’s sitcom would have used to transition from one scene to another. They feel interstitial. When combined with the lively the guitar line that starts the song and pops back in at the 2:00 mark, it’s just musically confusing. One way to mollify this — again, entirely subjective — viewpoint would be to say “Hey, maybe ambiguity is the point” (Three cheers for cognitive dissonance!) but according to vocalist Curt Smith, “The concept is quite serious – it’s about everybody wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes.” That’s some heavy stuff! You need strong musical accompaniment to keep the song from buckling under its own thematic weight.
Enter Lorde’s version, which is just as dark and cutting as the song’s intended message. I love how she’s managed to unlock the lyrics’ latent creepiness, and how the song’s production syncs up with the movie it’s helping to soundtrack, with percussive bursts of sound that call to mind jail cell doors slamming shut and grenades going off. I’m excited to see how it’s used in the film, and depending on how things go, I may even forgive the franchise for not using “We Are Young” when the fatefully fire-suited District 12 competitors rode a chariot into Panem’s collective heart in the first installment. Sigh. I still think about how awesome that would have been. Anyone want to remix that scene for me? Please?
Check out Lorde’s cover of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” below and click here to check out the track list for the Catching Fire soundtrack. You can’t buy the whole thing yet, but a few tracks are available.