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'Hallelujah' Has Been Ruined - Leonard Cohen Might As Well Have Shot Our Favourite Pet

By Mark Beaumont

Posted on 04 Aug 09

 
 

So last week ‘Laughing’ Leonard Cohen complained that his most famous song has become over-performed.

And he’s right: I hate ‘Hallelujah’ now. It’s mawkish, mewling, so earnest it’d make Halfwit cringe and, worst of all, it’s too damn religious. It makes me want to vomit up my own kidneys so I can ram them down the throat of anyone singing it.



Shame, because this time last year, when only Cohen, John Cale, Buckley and Rufus had gotten their emotive wee mitts on it, it was the most moving song I’d ever heard; I literally couldn’t listen to it without blubbing like a fresh member of the Deal Or No Deal 1p club.

From goddess to whore in a single Christmas chart run-down; after witnessing the foul degradations carried out upon ‘Hallelujah’ by Alexandra Burke I was almost driven to call time on the cover song altogether.



Now, I’m all for covers that improve or update. Otherwise we’d never have had Muse pomping up ‘Feeling Good’, Scissor Sisters saucing all over ‘Comfortably Numb’ or Pixies strapping space shuttle blasters onto The Jesus & Mary Chain’s ‘Head On’ and surfing it to the Orion Nebula.



Covers are great for bands who need to pad out their set to headline Brixton, who’ve only got 12 minutes of studio time left to record the B-sides or are desperate for the world to know about the deathless brilliance of The Cripplingly Fashionable Obscurities.

There’s great value to be had in ranks of indie gonks recreating classic albums on their anniversaries – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s…’ or ‘The Queen Is Dead’ – or bands re-imagining their favourite songs in an unexpected style, such as Nouvelle Vague or the superlatively spooky ‘Blood’ by This Mortal Coil, which is a bunch of folk and country standards as sung by a cryptful of 4AD’s sexiest ghosts.

But, for the most part, covers act as filler for the untalented or short of ideas. The endless boy bands, each cloned by Louis Walsh from the same strand of David Beckham’s arse hair, squeezing 137 consecutive Number Ones out of their Bee Gees songbook.

The agonising collections of Duran Duran, Tom Jones, Rod Stewart or haggard old lounge crooners doing ‘contemporary’. To release a cover as a single is tantamount to admitting you’ve got nowt left in the tank, you’re shooting melodic blanks. To end your stadium gigs with ‘I Am The Walrus’ is to hold your hands up to having failed to equal your heroes.

Trouble is, strapped songwriters make crap custodians of their own legacies. They have to grant permission for each cover that comes out but few spare much of a thought for the fate of their masterpiece; it’s like watching mothers queue up to sell their first-borns into slavery.

You give ‘Valerie’ or ‘Oh My God’ to Mark Ronson? Welcome to Cheese City, population: you. You’re seriously considering flogging your stone cold career-defining classic to a reality show winner? Then be prepared to see that song disappear up the toilet forever. It no longer belongs to you. It belongs to wedding DJs, drunk pier singers and Jo Whiley.

So Cohen’s only got himself to blame for dropping his brightest pearl into the murky swamp of culture’s Morass Of Crass. I mean, how mammoth a cheque convinced him that his diaphanous wonder might be enhanced by having ogres copping off to it in Shrek?

And when Simon Cowell came knocking in the hope of dragging his prettiest offspring away to be warble-raped by whoever won The X Factor, did Cohen think his delicate flower of a tune might benefit from a spot of R&B hackery?

Then more fool him: where once he had a glorious alternative hymn beloved of a clued-up few, now he’s created a karaoke albatross, his very own ‘Love Is All Around’.

It’s like Boris Johnson letting The Ting Tings redecorate St Paul’s; it made it impossible for me to enjoy Buckley’s version without feeling tainted by the thought of Burke gargling and simpering it to death like a murderous Mariah.

It’s been ruined, deflowered, diminished. Len might as well have come round each of our houses, shot our favourite pet and made us watch the bloodshed.

If I were made King Of All Music – and frankly I’m amazed no-one’s thought to instigate that particular putsch yet – I’d have a simple solution: a separate chart for covers. Imagine it – only original pop allowed in the Top 40; all regurgitated pap shifted to its own gormless ghetto.

They could have their own radio and TV shows and even their own Jools Holland – perhaps Stephen Mulhern from Britain’s Got More Talent, since he himself is a human cover version of both Ant and Dec at the same time.

And I’d put an immediate preservation order on ‘Hallelujah’. Christ knows she’s suffered enough.

 
 
 
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