In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Some of our all-time favorite covers.
Sicko, “Closer To Fine” (1994)
Perhaps no other genre takes more glee in recontextualizing other types of songs than punk. There are too many examples of the phenomenon to list here, but it goes back to the beginnings of the genre: Ramones covered “Let’s Dance” by Chris Montez on their genre-defining 1976 debut. About a decade later, 7 Seconds made its version of “99 Red Balloons” one of its signature songs. About a decade after that, Me First And The Gimme Gimmes made punk versions of non-punk songs their entire raison d’être. Ditto the screamingly inessential Punk Goes compilation series, which has pummeled the “punk rock versions of ________ songs” idea into the ground over the course of 15 years and numerous regrettable collections of metal, pop, ’80s songs, crunk (ugh), and more/less.
When punk and pop-punk exploded in popularity during the ’90s, punk covers proliferated. (Let us not speak of the ska-punk covers phenomenon.) The execution of them could fall anywhere on the irony spectrum, from, say, Avail’s version of “Pink Houses” skewing sincere versus Me First And The Gimme Gimmes burying the irony needle with “Uptown Girl” (and just about everything in their discography).
Plenty of people assumed Sicko was having a laugh when it closed out its 1994 debut with a speedy, punked-up version of the Indigo Girls’ signature hit, “Closer To Fine.” Sicko was, after all, a trio of smart-aleck pop punks from Seattle with an ironically named debut, You Can Feel The Love In This Room, which depicted the band playing to an empty music venue. And the Indigo Girls were, after all, a deadly earnest folk duo whose video for “Closer To Fine” has this:
But Sicko’s Denny Bartlett, Ean Hernandez, and Josh Rubin weren’t trying to be funny. They liked the Indigo Girls, which was deeply uncool (though “deeply uncool” was in Sicko’s DNA, as their songs “Computer Geek” and “The Dateless Losers” made clear). Their sincerity comes through on “Closer To Fine,” the 17th and final track of You Can Feel The Love In This Room, in the song’s faithful recontextualization as a pop-punk anthem. The sentiment of the original remains; there’s no smirking at the personal quest at its core or its overt sincerity. Sicko did, however, adapt the tin-whistle solo for guitar. Everyone has their limits.