Monday, June 13, 2011

Life in a Northern Town

I was 11 when The Dream Academy's tribute to Nick Drake, "Life in a Northern Town," hit American radio and MTV. I didn't know who Nick Drake was, and to this day, I have not examined his material in detail; but, after learning that his life and work inspired this song, and that David Gilmour co-produced the album from which the track originated, (thank you Wikipedia) I may take a closer look.

This song has always given me chills. Perhaps this is an autonomic response to the sound of wind at the start of the song; and certainly the video's montage of desolation, reinforces my "chilly" response. Whatever the cause, those chills ordered my brain to siphon off synapses for permanent storage of this song and it's melody.

Recently, those synapses were triggered and I went bumbling through the internet trash heap of information and found this SNL performance.

Upon watching, I couldn't help but notice the singer's resemblance to Billy Corgan, circa 1988.

Smashing Pumpkins, 1989 (Billy Corgan is 2nd from the right.)

While Billy Corgan has a deep body of work and The Dream Academy was a one hit wonder, I would argue that this song is better than any one that Billy Corgan has written. (I might reconsider after a fresh listen of the Gish album).  Based on my belief in the quality of this song, I was certain it would have been covered by some insipid 80s derivative Killers-esque band. Instead, it seems country band Sugarland took to the task.  Check out their live version below.

Now, I'm sure that when this song dropped, a 40-something music producer with Tim Burton hair and Buddy Holly glasses went crazy with anger that he didn't think to have the insipid Killers-esque band he's currently working with cover the song first. But I have to say, while I hate modern country, I'm glad it's Sugarland covering the song and not the former. At least Jennifer Nettles is old enough to remember the song; and she is a vocal powerhouse.

Still, even with Nettles' considerable vocal gifts, or perhaps because of them, the cover lacks the mournful restraint of the original. In fact, the chorus seems overly celebratory and anthemic. The original chorus is hooky, and thus easy to overdue. Still, to do so belies the sad origin of the song's inspiration; and it's that subtle feeling of sadness that made that song great. As such, my synapses shall remain committed to permanent cataloging of the Dream Academy version. Granted there was never any danger that they would jump ship. I'm a loyal broad when it comes to music!

Now, I'm off to download some Nick Drake - and thus fill in a hole in my music education. Listeners of Sugarland, and insipid Killers-esque bands, would be well advised to follow my lead.