There are a million different kinds of covers. I exaggerate, but there are a lot &mdash true-to-original except for vocal style, similar music with different instruments, new melody with old lyrics, new lyrics with old melody. Or sometimes it's a matter of modernizing, or of changing the genre, or of changing the mood. The reasons for covering are equally diverse; you can cover out of adoration for a song, a desire to learn from it, or out of hatred, a desire to do it better.
M. Ward covering David Bowie is one of the most fun kinds, an utter and complete reversal of mood and massive shift of genre. Ward takes Bowie's lyrics and the most bare bones of his musical structure to make his own song out of, drawing the most somber ballad from the most upbeat dance song. The two tracks highlight different images from the lyrics, Bowie's leaning on the "red shoes" while in M. Ward's you're more likely to remember "trembling like a flower."
In interviews M. Ward often talks about the importance of music from his past, and he has said the best way to develop a style is to choose a great artist and "rip them off with respect." A cover is maybe an extreme example of what he meant by ripping off, but this one definitely shows respect despite the huge changes, and looking at the two tracks next to one another is a cool study. Check 'em out.
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M. Ward on Myspace
David Bowie on Myspace