The most difficult task for musicians might be to cover another artist’s classic songs and make them interesting, let alone better.
It rarely happens.
The latest evidence is two compilation recordings released Friday: “Revamp” and “Restoration,” both with the subtitles “Reimagining The Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.”
“Revamp” is a collection of 13 remakes by modern pop and rock artists from Ed Sheeran to Pink to Logic to Queens of the Stone Age. “Restoration” sees 13 country music artists reworking Elton John songs.
Very few of the songs on “Revamp” and “Restoration” are particularly interesting. None of them are better than the original recordings by Elton John – certainly a tough ask, but, hey, nobody forced these artists to participate in the project, as far as I know.
First, if you’re wondering who Bernie Taupin is, shame on you. He’s a longtime collaborator with Elton John who has written most of the artist’s hits spanning 4 decades. They continue to work together today.
Second, I must tell you that Elton John is one of my favorite rock artists of all time, though admittedly there isn’t that much that he’s done since 1975 that stands out. His stretch of great records between 1970 and 1975, however, might be matched only by Queen’s run during the same decade.
Of the two records, “Restoration” does a slightly better job of reimagination. Perhaps that’s because, at their heart, Elton John’s greatest songs have a blues and honky tonk flair. Or, perhaps, today’s country music artists are more talented than today’s pop artists.
So, who succeeds with interesting remakes? Florence + The Machine (“Tiny Dancer”), Sam Smith (“Daniel”), Miley Cyrus (“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me” on the pop record, and “The Bitch Is Back” on the country record), Don Henley and Vince Gill (“Sacrifice”), Chris Stapleton (“I Want Love”) and Kacey Musgraves (“Roy Rogers”).
Who fails spectacularly? Mumford & Sons (a lifeless rendition of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”), Ed Sheeran (“Candle In The Wind”), Mary J. Blige (“Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word”), Q-Tip and Demi Lovato (“Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart”), Dierks Bentley (“Sad Songs Say So Much”) and Willie Nelson (“Border Song”).
In the end, the country collection, “Restoration,” is a boring, mediocre collection. It earns a C-minus. The pop and rock “Revamp” is sometimes laughably bad, and only occasionally slightly redeeming. It earns a D-minus, but could deserve an F.
If you’re an Elton John fan, skip these recordings and spend some time with the originals instead.