Joan As Police Woman
Sweet Police LLC
Where cover versions can fail is in overreaching and trying to tell you how the song should be, or, more often, dropping to their knees as if to say “we’re not worthy” repeatedly – basically: We know our version is not as good, we know we could never have done this, we just like the song…
Where Joan As Police Woman succeeds in her covers, time and again, is in the cautious, hopeful suggestion of what a song might also be – she doesn’t want you to forget the original. She can’t. It’s indelibly sketched to her heart and/or brain. The songs have had impact. And she wants you to feel them in the way she feels them. Her ‘rewrites’ aren’t to better the song, simply to better understand them, to better connect them to her world.
They are sometimes the highlights of her stage show – and both Prince’s Kiss and Blur’s Out of Time were features of her wonderful gig here last year.
And yes she often finds new ways into a tune, as on the sultry, slinky, slowed down cover of Kiss that opens Cover Two. We know Kiss from Prince and Tom Jones and either way it’s full noise, funky and pop-filled and a thousand cover bands have blurred versions of both or awkwardly straddled the fence or simply picked a side. But Joan makes it all new – and you feel a lifetime of Prince fandom in the version too.
When – or if – she can’t escape the original arrangement, as on Talk Talk’s Life’s What You Make It there’s the likeliness that it’s about celebrating the power and majesty of the song and the shape it arrived in. A good song is a good song and sometimes it’s okay to hold down the baking paper and trace around the edges.
But more often than not, Joan As Police Woman versions are surprising and enlightening and warm and passionate and exuberant – sometimes just for the existing, for the mere selection. Here Outkast songs rub up against The Strokes, Neil Young and Michael McDonald. And in the case of that velvet-throated song-master and cameo-singer extraordinaire, his 80s coke-classic funk-ballad, I Keep Forgettin’, is stripped of its yacht-rock version of soul and pulled apart to show the beating and vulnerable heart of one of the saddest of all break-up songs.
Neil Young’s On The Beach is the centrepiece of this album though – arriving mid-lockdown and with the world having very much turned and with thoughts it might indeed turn away it’s both chilling and thrilling to have the voice of Joan Wasser guiding us through Neil’s extraordinary everyperson anxiety exploration.
We also get Rizzo’s lament from the movie Grease – There Are Worse Things I Can Do. You can imagine Stockard Channing’s character being something of a style-icon in the younger Joan’s life – and if not, the chance to take a song from a musical and make it something less ‘novelty’ by placing it in a triptych with On The Beach and Out of Time would be reason enough for this to live as new here.
Gil Scott-Heron’s Running is pulled down from its fever-dream phrasing and yet is still unsettling in this calmer ‘song’ arrangement.
It’s a frankly perfect set of songs – in terms of the selection, the placement and the treatments.
There’s an intensity and energy here that might almost suggest Wasser cares more about these songs than her own. That’s not true. She cares about them as if they were her own. And in these renditions they are of course hers. And you can give no higher compliment to a cover.
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