“And then I heard a voice say,
‘Hey, you’re lost in music.’” Andrew Renton, 2019
Why would you cover a song? Why would The Fall cover a song? As improbable cover versions go, The Fall’s take on “Lost in Music” is up there.
You might suspect an easiness to it; hanging recognition on the object that is always already part of your collective memory or shared culture. After all, what would be the point of covering the ones no one knows? Of course, MES did this, too, where the obscurity reinforces it becoming even more of a Fall song.
But with something so recognisable, you can move very far away from the original and it still holds together, whatever you do to it. And you can be sure that MES is going to do his best to dismantle it from within.
He interposes a whole new set of words into the Rodgers/Edwards Sister Sledge classic, and there’s some Salford-accented French, among other things. But it’s when he sings the original lyrics that you understand how an object can be wholly appropriated away from its source and become something new. It completely belongs to MES now, and you can’t unhear him, even when you go back to the utterly sublime original. There’s no return from appropriation.
He situates it, politicises it. And along the way he achieves the very opposite of what the song set out to do in the first place. It’s not that MES doesn’t want to believe in what he hears, it’s that he can’t sustain it. So the more he asserts that he feels so alive, the less convincing he is.
You can see the appeal of the song. It’s a working class anthem in a seventies glam guise, invoking night fever cultural revolution, rhyming ‘alive’ with ‘nine to five’. Maybe it’s the nine to five that’s important to him, although MES renders clocking in time an hour later in his version.
What’s at stake for MES is that it’s likely a song can never not be a quotation. (Going back at least to “How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’”.)
“And then I heard a voice say, ‘Hey, you’re lost in music.’”
More than meta-something, this speaks to the disconnect that MES wants to sustain between the content with which he’s fully engaged and its delivery. He’s on board with what the song says, but he doesn’t want to become victim of the very ideology his engagement would set up if he admitted as much. It’s his way of doing critical engagement. Like a quantum theory, where the very act of observing changes forever what is observed.
He’s especially like this with love songs, by the way. Like an outsider looking in, not sure whether he wants in at all. But who wouldn’t want the option?
(And why does he keep saying, “Hideaway”?)