In 1991, the Australian rock band The Screaming Jets had 3 top 40 singles, including Better which reached number 4 position. Their debut album reached number 2 in the album charts. They were really quite a big deal at the time. (How big a deal? Well, they toured with Ugly Kid Joe, and we all remember how huge they were). They certainly didn’t need the “instant audience” assistance that a cover would bring them. So it may seem odd that their second album included a cover, which was released as a single. What is even odder is that the song they covered, while a cult hit, was certainly not a mainstream commercial success. It was, however, a defining song of the Australian underground music scene (back when underground meant that less people actually heard your stuff).
Shivers by the Boys Next Door was released in 1979 and represents the first mark that frontman Nick Cave would make on the Australian underground scene. Now I must say, I have had an interesting relationship with Nick’s music over the years. There are albums of his that I absolutely love, some that I admire but don’t actually listen to, and others that I really don’t like. But I have such respect for him that those albums I dislike actually anger me, because they are so bad and I know he can, and should, do better.
But this song, which incidentally was not actually written by him, is a corker. The music is hollow and distant and yet driving. Nick sounds like he’s crying all the way through it. It basically created the template for a career steeped in melodrama, depressing imagery and lyrics which sound deep if you want to think of them that way. “You know my baby? She’s so vain she is almost a mirror. I know, right? And there’s this weird thing that happens when you say her name so, you know, please don’t.” According to wikipedia, the opening line about suicide meant that the song was banned on a number of radio stations, which almost guarantees a certain class of audience.
The Screaming Jets were certainly not aiming for that same audience at the peak of their career. I can only assume they covered the song simply because they liked it.
Which only makes me wonder why they decided it should sound as much like Poison’s Every Rose Has Its Thorn as possible. I can almost hear the guitarist saying “I could do some lonesome distorted bluesy thing” and the drummer jumping up and saying “yeah! and then I can come in with a tasty little roll before the chorus!” and then they’d all give each other high fives. However when it comes down to it, they turned the song into a typical rock ballad which, given they were a typical rock band, is not that surprising.
What is surprising is that they released the song with mistakes in the lyrics. (Or perhaps they are “improvements”. I’m not sure which of these choices annoys me more.) I’ll leave it to you to find them, but the changes either don’t rhyme or are nonsensical. It’s one thing to get the lyrics wrong on a live recording (as with the REM cover posted earlier) but to rehearse, record and then release a song with incorrect lyrics is unforgivable, and takes this cover from the merely “bad” category to the “I deserve a medal for having to listen to this multiple times while writing this post” category.