This week Miley Cyrus did something, so I have to have an opinion about it.
She has recently posted a cover version of the famous Zeppelin version of the song “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” It sounds like a great idea. It sounds like an opportunity for a star who has a lot of attention, a lot of cameras pointed at her, to piss off the people she is supposed to be pissing off, (old white people) while tricking young people into a) thinking she has an understanding of and an appreciation for the past AND b) seducing those same young people into checking out seminal artists like Led Zeppelin and folk singer Anne Bredon (who originally wrote the song).
Before you cry foul, let me remind you that there is a long tradition of female vocalists covering Robert Plant’s husky yowl, and cracking falsetto, and it often sounds great.
Tori Amos liked to play a very feminine and sultry version of “Whole Lotta Love” on her tours. Her rendition managed to reclaim for feminism the song about a guy waving his pecker around. By mashing it together with the sweetest commitment-based elements of “Thank You,” and by vagina monologuing the fuck out of it with cat like yelps and breathy bosom heaving, she made the song somehow about freedom and transcendence instead of about conquest, all of which was probably lost on Plant, but probably led to him to consent to a strangely affecting duet version of “Down by the Seaside,” with Amos for Ecominium. (For the record, this song is not good. It sounds like Amos has not bothered to learn the words of anything but the chorus and is being coaxed along during the verses by a befuddled and unhip Plant, but it is an interesting lsiten, particularly in the jazzy, neo-noir Lou Reed if he were on Twin Peaks type arrangement.) Karen O and Trent Reznor teamed up when the American version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo came out and they made a surprisingly flat and contrived, yet effective for the trailers, version of “Immigrant Song.” Stevie Nicks has rock and rolled the fuck out of “Rock and Roll,” and every artist from Dolly Parton, to Heart, to Mary J Blige have done Stariway to varying degrees of success.
This is all to say that Miley Cyrus singing “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” has the necessary elements for the song to be at least novel, if not great and it should, theoretically be another way for Cyrus to distinguish herself from her peers and to climb one rung higher on the pop superstar ladder.
Unfortunately she fails miserably.
If anyone was rooting for this to be good, it was me. But it is paint by numbers and lazy.
The first issue is the approach she takes. She can’t even decide if she wants to use a baby doll voice, a tortured outcast’s, or a power-diva’s. Many accuse her of not taking music seriously, of being shamelessly histrionic and a lot of pomp and no circumstance, and this just goes to prove that. Is her sound completely manufactured? I don’t know, but it doesn’t make her seem at all genuine that she does not seem to have any consistent emotional connection to the song whatsoever. If it were a cover and not a karaoke rip off, if it were done with any level of creativity, or care this would do a lot to show her vocal range, as well as her emotional depth. But it doesn’t do any of those things.
I can just see her face twisted in “I know how to be on TV” faux concern while she skips from one verse to another. She seems like she is having fun with this song and if there is one song that you should not have fun singing, it’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” This isn’t even slick, well postured star making. This is lazy, slapdash, aping and it would have been best for everyone had this monstrosity never been made.
The production is awful. The static farts and sizzles while Miley flits from verse to chorus, excited to get to the part where she gets to pretend she is Plant and the whole thing is a real mess. Spin wants to call it “lo-fi,” but that is an insult to actual lo-fi. That is like calling hitting yourself in the face with a hammer, drinking a light beer because both get you dizzy. The biggest disappointment here is Spin, who used to be a reliable source for music reviews and Chuck Klosterman essays. Now they are doing press releases for Miley Cyrus?
Here is a message for Spin: Lo-Fi sounds like garbage on purpose you dimwits.
As far as “Baby, I’m Gonna Leave You,” (sic) as she hilariously calls it, I could not wait for this thing to be over so I could cleanse my ears, and colonic my soul by playing the Zeppelin version which is sophisticated, virile, tortured, nearly schizophrenic, and (of course) epic.
As far as I can tell, this is some kind of publicity stunt dreamt up by Soundcloud who is going to start competing with Spotify using the same business model where ads nudge you into signing up for premium access. If this is the kind of content they want to offer, they are going to have a tough time.
Also, Pink already did this much more competently in 2009, so why are we even talking about this right now?