I have had a bit of a crush on Duncan Sheik for the better part of 16 years, starting with my fascination with his first hit song, Barely Breathing. I've been a fan since, and have the self-titled debut, as well as Daylight, Whisper House, White Limousine, and the latest, Covers 80's, as a part of my collection. And when I first heard of the latest, I have to admit to rolling my eyes just a bit. After all, Duncan was a singer/songwriter, one whose talents I greatly admire. Why in the name of all that is holy would he be doing an album of compositions of others? And some of the greatest British New Wave bands of the time? Did my questions stop me from buying it? No, not at all. And after the first time I listened, I rolled my eyes alright, at my own ability to think I know better than the artist, cause I really like the album!
On Covers 80's, Sheik definitely puts his own spin, his own mojo on the songs. There is a peace, a calm, that is part of all the arrangements, some sort of Zen Sheik-ness. He handles the covers sweetly, but not gingerly. This isn't a karaoke album, filled with original arrangements with Duncan's vocals laid over them. He deconstructs each song, and tailored them to his own specs, and rejuvenates them. With this 12-song effort, he covers Depeche Mode, the Thompson Twins, New Order, The Cure, Howard Jones, Love And Rockets, Tears For Fears, Japan, Talk Talk, The Smiths, The Blue Nile, and the Psychedelic Furs. This is quite a cross-section of the period, and quite the daunting task. Unless, of course, you are Duncan Sheik.
There are several of his covers that infatuated me, including So Alive, the cover of the Love And Rockets song. It couldn't be more different than the original, which was this sexy, whispered, almost guttural call of the teenager for sex. Sheik's cover taps into his maturity, and is more of a search for something more. Here is the video for So Alive.
Of course, he picked a song by Depeche Mode, who in so many ways define the shifting scene of 80s music, from their early music that was Electro-Pop fun, to the dark and sexy rebellion of the teens. Sheik went for the 1986 release, Stripped, off the Black Celebration album. This is the first track off the album, and the sparse arrangement begins this journey, letting us know that the album will be "Stripped down to the bone." Sheik injects a bit of innocence to the song, and a softness. This is his version of Stripped.
I am a huge fan of the Psychedelic Furs, even before they reached mass audiences with the soundtrack to Pretty In Pink, the John Hughes teen epic. Lead singer Richard Butler had such a distinctive voice, the band had such a strong sound. So when I saw Duncan was planning to cover the 1986 hit The Ghost In You, I didn't know what to expect. Thankfully, he did a wonderfully touching job, once I truly enjoyed.
And can you believe he took on another of the holiest of sacred cows? Yes, I am talking about New Order. Duncan managed to pull up Love Vigilantes, a song off the 1985 album Low-Life. This song wasn't a single off the album, that was The Perfect Kiss. But this is a great song. And Sheik does a great job with it.
This is just a taste for four of the twelve songs on the album. I am also crazy about his cover of Kyoto Song, by The Cure. For more about Duncan Sheik, you can visit his official website here. You can find Covers 80's on iTunes and Amazon.