Eleven years since Joan Wasser reinterpreted songs by artists including Britney Spears, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and even Adam & The Ants she returns on ‘Cover Two’ with another eclectic mix of song choices. This time around the track selection is no less random, other than that they make up some of her favourites, as she sets about deconstructing them and making them all her own. Joan’s 2020 release includes artists from Neil Young to Blur and Talk Talk to Outkast.
As Joan heads towards her fiftieth birthday she seems to be gathering momentum rather than easing off. ‘Cover Two’ follows on from her retrospective ‘Joanthology’ from last year and her luscious album release of entirely new material, ‘Damned Devotion’, from February 2018. Reinterpreting or covering another artist is always a very tricky area. Are you completely sympathetic to the original? Do you go all out to alter the very fabric of the song? Do you do something radical? Either way, it’s so subjective and is unlikely to please die hard fans of the original. Risk vs reward aside though, it usually throws up some very interesting versions.
‘Cover Two’ is introduced by one of the most contentious choices on the album. The song that Joan has chosen to head up her latest release is one she’s been playing live for a while, and one which she played throughout her Joanthology Tour of 2019. ‘Kiss’ by Prince is also one of the more obvious cover choices. It’s been done before, and with a great deal of success from Tom Jones to Kelly Clarkson and even the likes of Richard Thompson and Nicole Kidman inbetween; ‘Kiss’ is a beloved song that everyone thinks they can cover.
Joan’s cover of ‘Kiss’ strips it right back, slows it right down and exposes Wasser’s voice leaving it with nowhere to hide. When you’ve got a voice like Joan’s this is not a problem, it’s a complete joy. The soulful lilt delivered with just the right amount of sensuality captures the essence of the original perfectly whilst giving it a little twist. Joan’s laidback bpm extends the original song by an extra minute and a half, stretching the vocal out into a gloriously sumptuous performance, aided by some cleverly worked, well-arranged instrumentation. The barely there guitar, intermittent piano, minimal tambourine and smouldering vocal combine to offer up a great interpretation of a great song.
‘Under Control’ by The Strokes also gets an extended makeover by Joan as Police Woman. Joan says, “I’ve always heard ‘Under Control’ as a classic R&B song dressed up as a Strokes song”. The piano introduction that plays throughout, coupled with Wasser’s delicate vocal, make it barely recognisable until the chorus kicks in. Her “best Brian May guitar playing” is brought into the mix during the second half of the song but it’s a long way from the original and the jury’s still out. Blur’s ‘Out Of Time’, however, is a great fit for a similar arrangement and production. Joan and her piano deliver up a devastatingly good take on Blur’s ‘Think Tank’ classic. Joan as Police Woman gets perfectly into character on this reflective and emotive song; even the piano has a melancholic sound to it.
At opposite ends of the scale, but sharing possibly the most sympathetic interpretations to be found on ‘Cover Two’, are new takes on Talk Talk’s seminal masterpiece ‘Life’s What You Make It’ and Rizzo’s (Stockard Channing) ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. On ‘Life’s What You Make It’ Joan doesn’t deviate too far from the original, sticking with a proven arrangement, a very rhythmic soundtrack, an understated guitar and a killer bass line. Here she duets with Justin Hicks to deliver up something lovingly crafted and beautifully balanced. Joan’s song from Grease, ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’, is equally true to the original as Joan sings in a higher range as she gives the song a retro feel befitting its ’50s throwback theme. It’s not quite as saccharine sweet as the Grease original but it’s not a way off.
‘Cover Two’ from Joan As Police Woman serves to reinforce just what an incredibly talented artist she is. Her vocal remains one the most under-appreciated in the business and her creativity is always inspiring. Some of her interpretations here are excellent and many of the cover versions worth a considered listen; there are, however, a few that maybe shouldn’t have made the cut.