On the Radio: Inexplicable Cover Songs, 311 “Love Song”

Because I go on and off the radio–sometimes breaking for years at a time before returning to the radio–and because casual music listening itself has been transformed by the internet, I often miss out on music for years before noticing it. Recently, however, I had to change from the local jazz station to  a pop station because I couldn’t handle a full hour of Samba music. (No offense meant to Samba, but after 45 minutes or so it gets a bit repetitive.)

I started out with the volume rather low, just as some kind of vehicular white noise. But my children, eager for some change or excitement to the day, begged for “more, more” music. So, I turned it up and the following horror assaulted me:

Now, I have confessed before to loving cover songs. In fact, I have written so often about cover songs that it must seem like an unhealthy obsession. But this version doesn’t seem to justify itself in any way. It is similar enough to the original that I thought it might be some strange remix. But then I shook my head out and wondered what the hell the reggae beat was doing there. And, I do like reggae. But here?

For better or worse, my car’s radio reports the name of a song and its performer so I discovered immediately that this crime was performed by 311, a fake reggae band that certainly should be listed as one of the worst bands of the 1990s. It has been so long since I considered 311 as anything other than an inexplicable crime against good taste, that I could not imagine something else to say about the band.

Until this. As I ‘theorize’ about in an earlier post, good covers have to be motivated in some way: they provide subtle but certain variations on the song characterized by the unique sound of the new performer (“variation on a theme”); they radically change a song and convert it to a new form or genre (“the paradigm shift”); or they force you to rethink the value of a song by performing it a new or surprising way (“prejudice surprise”).

This cover is none of those. It weakly transfers the brit-invasion sound to a cruise-ship reggae beat; it doesn’t even incorporate some of 311’s signature sound (the bouncy faux-hip-hop). Instead, what we end up with is a sad imitation of the original without any of Robert Smith’s angst or the haunting disembodied instrumentation that characterizes the Cure and the period (1989). I cannot understand why this cover was made and it is certainly one of the worse cover songs I have heard by a major band since I heard Bush mangle R.E.M.’s “Radio Song” live in 1995.

Man, after listening to this song again, I need a soul-colonic:

I have never talked about the Cure much other than to mention that their show was cancelled when I was in high school and I really wish it hadn’t been. I really love Robert Smith’s voice. I love many of their songs. The style is a bit anachronistic and makes me want a clove cigarette. The albums always have two-three great tracks. And the rest? Forgettable. But, also forgivable. Unlike 311.

So, my brother, what do you think? Is my horror justified or am I just Ignatius_J._Reillying up the place?

6 comments on “On the Radio: Inexplicable Cover Songs, 311 “Love Song”

  1. T.A. Gerolami says:

    I believe I can explain this one-it was made to be on the 50 First Dates soundtrack. You needed a new cover you could market, from a popular band, but not so different that the Drew Barrymore/Cure fan demo (then in their mid 20s to early 30s) wouldn’t balk.

    Funny story about this cover: I worked at a movie theater when this came out. As I waited to clean the theater and this played over the credits, a 50 something black guy came up to me and asked who did the song, which he really liked. At the time I couldn’t think of 311’s name, or the song’s title; all I could say was it was a cover of a Cure song.

    • theelderj says:

      That is a good explanation for the horror but it doesn’t make me feel any better about it or less angry. Most of this is probably because I really like that Cure song…Oh, and I really, really loathe 311.

      • T.A. Gerolami says:

        This is 311 at their least loathsome for me, but yeah, it’s a pretty terrible thing overall.

      • theyoungerj says:

        311 does suck, we can all agree on that.

      • theelderj says:

        Here’s my question for you: Caught in a temporal stasis and forced to listen to one artist for what feels to be eternity, would it be Foo Fighters or 311?

        I’d actually pick the later, because I hate the former even more.

      • theyoungerj says:

        It would depend on the album. I really like the first two Foo albums. 311 has like one, maybe two listenable songs a record.

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