1977, 2012, Music

AJA (2012) by The Darcys

All art and all pop culture has sacred cows, things that many (or even most) people think should be left alone because they were “perfect” (usually because they have a particular emotional pull to these people, not because they’re “perfect”).

But the great thing about music as an art form, and one of the things that makes music unique among art forms, is that, with every performance of a song or composition, that piece changes. Paintings don’t change. Buildings don’t change. Photographs and films don’t change. Music does, if it’s performed more than once.

But as a society, we generally hate this idea. So many of us believe that music must be cast in stone and never altered – many of us want to see a band live so they’ll “play the hits” exactly as we remember them on record. We want our classic albums and songs to always sound the same way we first heard them, and we don’t want anyone to reinterpret them.

But I completely disagree with that approach. Glenn Gould shouldn’t have been prevented from playing Bach on a piano because Bach didn’t have pianos and because Gould ignored Bach’s tempi. Rather, he should be celebrated because he did both of those things. Bands that refuse to play their songs the same way live as on record should be celebrated.

But I don’t like Steely Dan and so Aja is no sacred cow for me. So it’s likely I would embrace this album-length cover even if I didn’t feel strongly about the role of interpretation in music. (Though I don’t love the actual music, I appreciate the Flaming Lips’ cover of Sgt. Pepper, perhaps the most sacred of sacred cows in rock music, so that should give you some idea of where I stand on this thorny issue.) I’d rather hear someone else play Becker and Fagen’s songs, frankly.

For the most part, I like this more than the original album (shock! horror!). Much of what The Darcys do here is a little cliche for 2012 indie rock, but it works well with these songs and I was hoping that a different, less slick take on these songs would make me like them more (it does).

Really my only quibble is that the lead singer takes Fagen’s vocal line almost exactly the same more often than not, which doesn’t fit with the otherwise pretty radical rearrangements of the songs.

I’m not sure any of these covers will ever go on my list of “Greatest Covers” but I appreciate how non-reverent they are (except for those vocals). They make me see the record in a new light, a light that I wanted to see it in given how little I like the original.


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