When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week My Bloody Valentine takes on Wire’s “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
If you’re one of those endearing souls who loves music that speaks less to visceral emotions than academic obsessions, then Wire’s “Map Ref 41°N 93°W” is the song for you. Indeed, over slightly aberrant new-wave-inflected rock, words that express the mystique of cartography manifest themselves as poetry, telegraphing an unlikely union of science and art that’s affecting on multiple levels. At the same time, the music, which sort of gurgles in a happy, krautrock way, doesn’t suggest that the U.K. art punks were overly serious about themselves. Hardly. This was 1979, and the quartet was simply interested in conveying the tension found in a map-maker’s struggle to find peace in the face of empire. (That type of lyric writing is still pretty common, right? Hardly. But I would love to see a band take on the issue of political gerrymandering with the same sophisticated whimsy.)
Arguably, the content debate matters less in light of My Bloody Valentine’s 1996 distortion-heavy cover, which appeared on Whore: Tribute To Wire. (The original is from Wire’s third LP, 154.) The song, which remains MBV’s last release to date, stays close to the original in terms of structure, but it predictably dives headlong into Kevin Shields’ abyss of beautiful noise, which grows more prominent as the song moves along. Similarly, Bilinda Butcher’s backing vocals add a haunting quality to the song, which otherwise treads fairly lightly. The differences between two versions are slight, all things considered, so your choice comes down to head vs. heart, in a sense. I leave it to you to decide which is which.