Owen (AKA Mike Kinsella) has always been impartial to the odd cover version. He’s already tackled everything from Extreme’s ‘More Than Words’ to Wilco’s ‘I’m Always In Love’ to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Stolen Car’ (renamed ‘Stolen Bike’), so an album of covers paying tribute to some of his favourite artists and influences promises a real insight into an individual with a broad musical taste but a definite sound and style.
In fact, pretty early on you can tell Kinsella has chosen his songs perfectly. Lyrically and musically every song sounds like it could’ve been culled from a different part of his career. In the case of ‘Girl In A Box’ (originally by Blake Babies) it’s even a perfect fit thematically and could’ve been lifted straight off ‘Ghost Town’. It’s a phenomenally clever choice – but then I’d expect nothing less from an artist as experienced as Kinsella.
The songs he has chosen are also perfect for his voice and tone and style. Listening back to his take on ‘More Than Words’, it’s funny because it’s such an unexpected cover, but it’s in no way one of his finest songs – and sounds like a cover version. Here, all of the songs sound like an Owen song. From the intricate guitar work of Lungfish’s ‘Descender’ and Mojave 3’s ‘Some Kinda Angel’ to the bittersweet and occasionally spiteful lyrics of the aforementioned ‘Girl In A Box’, Owen trademarks are stamped all over ‘Other People’s Songs’ – certainly in far more than many other cover albums, which often just sound like tribute records.
Kinsella does occasionally stray from type – The Promise Ring’s ‘Forget Me’ is both jaunty and a huge amount of fun – something not usually associated with Kinsella’s earnest indie/emo. It’s a brilliant take on one of his Cap’n Jazz bandmate Davey von Bohlen’s finest songs (although lyrically it’s another great fit), transforming the neurotic indie-pop into a countrified singalong.
Perhaps the biggest departure from the original source material can be found in the cover of Against Me!’s ‘Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart’. A monolithic, pounding slice of American punk rock, he keeps the boy/girl vocals (brilliantly supported by Sarah Mitchell) but transforms it into an orchestral beauty. It’s stripped back and heartfelt – and again, unmistakably Owen.
He repeats the trick with the more traditional punk blasts of The Smoking Popes’ ‘Under The Blanket’ and All’s ‘Just Like Them’, with the former in particular a real triumph. In fact, you could say the entire record is a triumph. It would be easy for everything to sound like a pastiche, but Kinsella’s deft musicianship and sincere delivery ensures ‘Other People’s Songs’ is another excellent addition to his near-flawless canon.
‘Other People’s Songs’ by Owen is out now on Polyvinyl.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)