When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Franz Ferdinand takes on LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
“All My Friends” is at the same time the best and worst song to write about this week, given the recent farewell that LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy bade us from a sold-out Madison Square Garden on April 2, surrounded by, well, all his friends. It’s the best not because the song is arguably Murphy’s greatest achievement, but because of how prescient its themes would prove to be. Over seven-plus minutes of off-kilter, sprightly piano hits and disco-punk rhythms, Murphy told us that “this could be the last time” that he would “set controls for the heart of the sun,” even though “All My Friends” appeared on just his second album. Indeed, it was almost as if he already had an end game in mind as he and his friends pounded the cold New York streets on the way to the club. So it’s the worst for the very same reason: Time itself, compounded by the demands of growing older (the combined bête noire of the song), explains why we must go ahead in the world Soundsystem-less.
No matter how you feel about the legacy or the music of the band (or the pseudonym if you’re Slate‘s Jody Rosen), “All My Friends” is filled with the sort-of “wish I had one more shot” poetry that we all feel in increasing portions as we grow older. That it was set to a tune that’s as timeless as New Order’s “Ceremony” is an ancillary benefit, as far as I’m concerned, albeit a great one. And, as many writers have noted since the LCD’s inception, Murphy’s lyrics are always worth highlighting. Whether in forms ironic, snarky or meditative, his thoughtfulness is a rare quantity among the typically surface homogeneity of most dance-music lyrics. I, for one, will miss the dynamism of a guy who can irreverently bury elitism (“Losing My Edge”) in the same breath that he can earnestly mark the denouement of youth (“All My Friends”).
As far as Franz Ferdinand’s cover goes, I tend to agree with the highest-rated comment on the song’s YouTube page: “[the] debate about who did this song better is completely retarded.” For one, Murphy commissioned the arty (and culinarily sophisticated) dance punks to record their own version for the “All My Friends” single, alongside a version by John Cale. That the cover was born of a mutual respect goes a long way toward negating any sense of competition. And two, as the YouTube commenter goes on to subtly suggest, “BOTH BANDS DID GREAT DAMMIT.” It’s true! Franz’s cover is the rock to Murphy’s roll. (I’d apologize for my bawdy closer if it weren’t so accurate.)