When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week First Aid Kit takes on Fever Ray’s “When I Grow Up.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
In the last few years, Swedish musical exports have consistently made a huge impression on me. If I’m honest, this trend started in middle school with my Ace Of Base obsession (come on, there are worse guilty pleasures), but back then I was more easily impressed. Those were the days when all I needed was a hook to be enamored, a natural, adolescent admiration that I sometimes wish I was still capable of harboring today. On the other hand, a discerning ear is absolutely necessary in a globally connected world that’s unrelenting in its promotion of new music; it was easier to define one’s taste before the Internet, obviously, if for no other reason than your options were limited.
But, leave it to Sweden to defy my jadedness, to thwart my exclusive nature, by making music so good that I often forget to be critical. Quite simply, I’ve just started to accept that if a record has made it’s way stateside from the small Scandinavian enclave, it’s probably good. Not necessarily the best approach for a music writer, of course, but years of discovering records by Jens Leckman, El Perro Del Mar, Lykke Li, The Knife, jj, ceo, Air France, etc., has left me somewhat unguarded, willing to be an ambassador at almost every turn.
Continuing in that tradition, Fever Ray’s eponymous debut was one of my favorite records of 2009, a dark extension of the Knife’s immersive, whimsical, electronic world. (It’s no secret that Fever Ray is the alter ego of Karin Dreijer Andersson, one-half of the Knife alongside her brother, Olof Dreijer). And, in many ways, Fever Ray literally sounds like a record by the Knife, which is to some extent due to the hand of co-producer Christoffer Berg, who has mixed all of the duo’s work to date. But, in so many more, it exposes Andersson’s preference for slower, slinkier compositions that evoke moods more brooding than bombastic.
“When I Grow Up,” with its minimal, but economical arrangement of stark beats, vocals and pitch-shifted synths, is a great example of this dichotomy, a song that’s also telling in its ability to point us to tracks in the Knife’s catalog that Andersson probably had the biggest hand in writing. Also notable are its lyrics, which are less quixotic than much of what comes from the Knife. Of course, that sentiment is relative to the author in question: Andersson, though dreaming about the future in the way we all do, still finds a way to be more peculiar and fanciful than most, which is ultimately one of the reasons I’m so endeared to her work.
Sweden’s First Aid Kit, while much more musically direct, is nonetheless a natural choice to cover “When I Grow Up.” The young, folks-y duo is comprised of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, who were discovered by Rabid Records (owned by the Knife) after their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” went viral on YouTube in 2007. Like that cover, the sister’s take on Fever Ray is moving on its own accord, but is all-the-more intriguing in how it lays bare Andersson’s lyrics in a way that makes her more relatable to a mainstream audience that will more easily swallow the twee pop of First Aid Kit than the less palatable work of the Knife or Fever Ray. Regardless of how different it is from the original, however, the song retains its moodiness, which could position it as a sort of backdoor into Andersson’s work for those who might’ve been previously closed off to her more oblique musical perspectives.
Cast your vote wisely.