Take Cover! El Perro Del Mar Vs. Lou Reed

When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week El Perro Del Mar takes on Lou Reed’s “Heavenly Arms.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!

When Lou Reed released Blue Mask in 1982, it was considered by many to be a return to form and a welcome escape from the excess of his mercurial output of the ’70s. Amid drug and alcohol abuse, that decade was for the most part spent giving fans everything and nothing they wanted, from the insular Berlin to the all-things-to-all-people-isms of Sally Can’t Dance. And let’s not forget 1975’s Metal Machine Noise, a double album of, well, what the title infers.

But tracks like “Heavenly Arms,” Blue Mask‘s final number, revealed a man grown weary of games. The song is incredibly straightforward and earnest, a far cry from the gimmicks Reed was beginning to be known for, which, had they kept up, could’ve eventually tarnished his legend considerably. Blue Mask isn’t as groundbreaking as anything the Velvet Underground produced with Reed at the helm, to be sure, but it’s far better than most of what he released in the decade prior. In this, as in all things, the relativity of the matter counts, especially when you’re talking about an icon like Reed.

Considering that Sweden’s Sarah Assbring sings about love and the loss of it on most, if not all, El Perro Del Mar tracks, “Heavenly Arms” was a perfect fit when it came time to record 2009’s Love Is Not Pop, her third album. And she absolutely nailed it, transforming the original’s instrumental simplicity into a more elaborate, Brill Building-type affair with the help of Studio’s Rasmus Haag. The production constantly surprises without diminishing the warmth at the heart of the song, enhancing and arguably improving on Reed’s idea.

The Cover:

The Original:

2 replies on “Take Cover! El Perro Del Mar Vs. Lou Reed”

Too much Velvet Underground, too much Lou Reed for Perro del Mar to compete on the same porch. What compounds the problem is that a lot of Indie Rock is barely audible and I know they are trying to send a message but my message is Melanie Safka proved you could make great music and still be understood through the loudspeakers. I love Indie Rock but please, if you are not going to speak up in the name of artistic value at least supply us with headphones that enhance the sound so we aren’t guessing what you are saying. I did enough of that on Fables of the Reconstruction.

It’s a great cover, but at least vocally, everything’s already there in Lou Reed’s version. The subtleties may be harder to hear in the rock arrangement, but the songwriting surely reflects Reed’s pre-VU, “Brill Building” background.

But kudos to El Perro Del Mar for an excellent rendition. I especially like how the singer doesn’t mess with the original’s refrain to “Silviaaaa,” Reed’s then-wife. Nor does she avoid the line “only a woman can love a man,” which sounds politically dubious in 2011, but makes more sense in the context of The Blue Mask’s therapeutic representation of the excesses of Reed’s ’70s lifestyle, which he was then finally emerging from.

I think the author of this post understates the intensity of the album; this is the last track, coming after some hellish songs about kicking drugs (and turning to drinking) and fantasies of violence. One element of the original not quite captured, then, in the cover is the sense of “impending storm,” of fear and awe, and the emotion of really being lost without the subject of the song. It’s a plea for help, whereas the cover is more dreamlike and seductive. But both are tender.

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