Thursday, August 21, 2014

Covered Up: Neko Case - "Madonna of the Wasps" (Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians)

Neko Case – “Madonna of the Wasps” (Robyn Hitchcock)
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You B-Side, 2013

There was a time, five or six years ago, where I was an absolute nut for Robyn Hitchcock’s Fegmania!. I think it had something to do with Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy citing Hitchcock as an influence. I played a track from that album every week for a semester on KJHK. “Another Bubble,” “My Wife & My Dead Wife,” “I’m Only You,” actually, the whole first side of that album was on rotation. Despite my devotion to that record, I never picked up another Hitchcock album, which seems totally insane. Leave it to a fantastic cover to reopen the door to Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians. I didn’t know “Madonna of the Wasps” was a cover when I first listened to the b-sides from Neko Case’s latest album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, and that’s probably a good thing. Her rendition of my favorite Harry Nilsson track—“Don’t Forget Me,” featured on Middle Cyclone—was a huge disappointment. This one, however, is just so wonderful. Without even listening to the original, I can hear Case and the band channeling the jangly guitars and wobbly synthesizers of the late 80s. M. Ward provides soulful counter vocals that play so well with Case’s, which is no surprise since their vocal interplay on The Worse Things Get… is one of the myriad elements that make that album a masterpiece.

Listening to the original for the first time was like meeting up with an old friend after years of separation. Hitchcock’s buttery, yet lightly idiosyncratic vocals, and those beautiful jangly 80s guitar tones are pure magic. It’s just flabbergasting that I didn’t think to rip Hitchcock’s entire catalog when I was at KJ. It was all there on the shelf, even Queen Elvis, from which “Madonna of the Wasps” is culled. Beautiful, slightly dark, but cut through with that shimmering riff and infinitely replayable with its three-minute running time that feels way too short. Three-minutes is the perfect length for a song, and I’ve wasted so many words railing against bands who feel the need to repeat the same verses and choruses over and over again, but I could listen to this track forever.

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