When Big Voices Cover Small Songs

Cee Lo hits a high note

There’s an endless list of mainstream tunes covered by indie singers. I’m thinking Iron and Wine “Such Great Heights,” Ray LaMontagne “Crazy,” Taken By Trees “Sweet Child Of Mine,” Gary Jules “Mad World,” Ryan Adams “Wonderwall.” There’s simply not enough room within these margins to mention all the great covers of popular songs like these. Some take the songs on with a heavy gusto, but some of the more memorable knock them down a notch (think Yael Naim’s “Toxic”). There’s something great about quiet voices singing songs we know were originally conceived to be big and smiley. (Do we really detest the mainstream that much?) Love or hate the original tracks there’s something undeniably enjoyable about hearing a Ted Leo strum out a “Since U Been Gone.” They almost always seem to work. But does it work the other way around?

Big-voiced Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley vet, Cee Lo Green, released an album this week, The Lady Killer, that does it anyway. Featured on this latest of Green’s solo efforts is a cover of Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” (hear both versions after the jump) and it’s certainly a different take on the song. Nothing has worked better for Green than his recent summer YouTube hit, “Fuck You!” That undeniably infectious ditty is a masterful throwback to Motown — there were few popular singers that could have rivalled Green in talent this summer. And we’ll just ignore that buzz-killingly restrained radio edit.

The question here is whether big-mouthed singers can take on songs that are the size of half a uvula. Cee Lo’s voice is so gargantuan that it’s a little awkward when matched with the indie nature of a song like “No One’s Gonna Love You.” Still, the great power of his voice can’t be denied, it’s really a rarity in today’s music scene, and we would all be better off with more Green on the radio.

Band of Horses

So maybe the question is not whether singers like Green can take these songs on, but whether they should. Without a doubt, the answer is: yes, they should. Band of Horses’ diehards may have cringed in revulsion when the cover was released, but they forget that Green recorded the track because it’s a great track. There is no disrespect in the reinvention of a song. Reinvention is the sincerest form of flattery in music. (Band of Horses even recorded Green’s “Georgia” out of appreciation). The original Band of Horses track is beautiful and quietly building, but here, producer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party’s Intimacy, Florence & the Machine’s Lungs) flips that around with a production full of all the electronic magic of synths and base. It’s a fine production for a fine producer. Yes, Green’s vocals are big and burly and nothing like Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell’s warm, pillowy tone — but should we care? Having come to the end of writing this with Cee Lo’s version still playing on a loop, I think I’ve answered my own question. Does it work? It doesn’t really matter.

Cee Lo’s take:

The original:

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