Trying To Get To You

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cold War Kids Take On Sam Cooke

I've enjoyed the Cold War Kids debut album, Robbers and Cowards. I can't say I love it, but I think it's a quality debut; intelligent with enough passion to keep me interested about what they're going to do next. I saw them live a couple of times back in the beginning of the year and was not overwhelmed, but I've heard that they've made major strides on the road this year.

Last week, someone sent me an mp3 of the band doing a live version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." I was almost frightened to put it on; indie rock bands doing Sam Cooke songs is scary enough, but covering "A Change Is Gonna Come?" It's sacrilege, right?

Much to my surprise, they pull it off.

The band plays the song with a hint of doo-wop; the twinkling piano reminds me of something out of the 50's. Nathan Willett's vocals are the sound of a guy open enough to know the real thing when he hears it, smart enough to find his own place within the realm of the song and idealistic enough to assert that this civil-rights era anthem can belong to him, too. It's a surprisingly non-postmodern view to have, but I found the following quote on their MySpace page, and then it all made sense:

“The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal:shock disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘Oh how banal.’ To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law.”

– David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram” (1993)

This made me like the band a whole lot more. As a dedicated opposite of the irony, studied jadedness and easy cynicism that postmodernism has wrought for the last 20+ years on music and culture as a whole (while simultaneously acknowledging the power and influence that its had), I sure as hell love their point of view. I hope that on their new album, they become more emotionally affecting, further on the edge of conviction and eager to risk the scorn of those who have supported them so far.

Download: Cold War Kids - "A Change Is Gonna Come (Live)"


Anonymous said...

You will never really understand the meaning of "wrong," until you see JD & The Straight Shot cover "A Change Is Gonna Come." JD, as in James Dolan, as in, the most detestable man in NYC and possibly parts of Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, as well.

I had the displeasure of seeing these clowns open up for Joe Walsh at the Beacon Theatre and when they launched into this Sam Cooke monster, my heart just broke a BAD WAY!

I will listen to the Cold War Kids version, but I need some preparation. I know you understand soul music to some degree. This is why I am even bothering.

Ben Lazar said...

Yikes. James Dolan doing "A Change Is Gonna Come." The only thing I could imagine that would be worse would be Karl Rove singing it.

Anonymous said...

OK. Just listened to it. I'm not buying it. I do agree with your comments about their debut...another reason I wanted to hear this. thank you. Frank Sinatra pulled off "Ol' Man River," but that's as much as I can allow in my life.

Unknown said...

I'm really shocked that I think this is a pretty good version. "Change" is one of the greatest songs ever recorded (maybe the greatest, imo). I thought Ben had gone a bit off with this recommedation, but these guys mean it (really mean it) and they do justice to it, even though they obviously don't come close to matching the original. Thanks for the rec.

BTW, I've never posted here before but I love the blog (and read it regularly). My top 10 tracks of the year so far:

1. Struggle No More - Anthony Hamilton
2. Dress Blues - Jason Isbell
3. Harder Than You Think - Public Enemy
4. Paper Planes - M.I.A.
5. Girls in Their Summer Clothes - Bruce Springsteen
6. Faheem - Brother Ali
7. Stop! - Against Me!
8. Truth Be Told - Bill Kirchen
9. All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
10. Still waiting (though there are a lot of contenders)

Ben Lazar said...

Thanks for comment and the list. I will make sure to check out the Anthony Hamilton and James Isbell tracks. I've been meaning to get those albums for a while now. I also will check out Bill Kirchen, who I haven't heard of.

"Girls In Their Summer Clothes" is just ridiculously amazing, isn't it??

Unknown said...

The Kirchen song was produced by (and possibly written by) Nick Lowe. Gorgeously understaded country/soul. Lowe's "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" (from his latest album) is one of the great modern Sam Cooke knockoffs if you haven't heard it.

"Girls..." is unbelievably ridiculously amazing indeed.

Ben Lazar said...

I need to get the Lowe album. Thanks for the tip.

Saul Good said...

Just wanted to say hello. I agree with you about CWK and definitely loved the DFW quote on their home page.

I linked back to this post from my blog:

Anonymous said...

I think robbers and cowards is one of the best overall albums in awhile. Very solid.