The 1975 are really good at doing covers. In 2013 they showed up to the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge to perform one of the decade’s most disgustingly mawkish pop hits – aka One Direction’s debut single “What Makes You Beautiful” – and turned it into a syrupy ballad that only frontman Matty Healy’s croon could make sound remotely meaningful. And just last year, the UK pop rock outfit returned to that same studio to record an imaginative, mid-tempo rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” packaged with organ-sounding synthesizers and the usual charm of their sideman John Waugh’s saxophone skills.
Listen: “By Your Side” – The 1975
Both live covers, along with the numerous ones they’ve executed in between, warrant any belief that the 1975 would most likely make something acclaimable of a “proper” cover: one that’s nestled in an well-produced album or EP, mixed and mastered and ready to blast at a positively deafening volume. But as the band’s newish sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It (released February 2016 via Dirty Hit/Interscope Records) failed to offer such reworkings in its epic of a track list, it’s safe to say that fans of the group are going to have to wait a bit longer for that theoretical, praiseworthy gem to foster under pressure. And that absence is acceptable as of last month, when the 1975 chose to partner with UK nonprofit War Child to release a charity single that’s also their first studio rework unassociated with BBC Radio 1. After giving the rendition of legendary R&B act Sade’s “By Your Side” a single listen, the exasperating wait for the 1975 to release a real cover is affirmably negligible, mostly because a new sonic disparity accompanies this release.
You think I’d leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I’d leave you down
When you’re down on your knees
I wouldn’t do that
I’ll tell you you’re right when you’re wrong
And if only you could see into me
Since their self-titled debut album, the band has never been one to wade in the shallow end of its most manifest inspiration: bouncy, ‘80s synthpop and rock. Funky rhythm guitars and drum machines have made some of the 1975’s biggest singles to date – including 2013’s “Girls” to a more recent “She’s American” – sound like they were pulled from mainstream airwaves 30-something years ago. It wasn’t until I like it when you sleep, that the band started stealing sounds of succeeding generations. This effort was most notable on “Lostmyhead,” where the 1975 drowned themselves in the distortion and feedback of My Bloody Valentine for a good five minutes. Still, the leap from the ‘80s pop to ‘90s shoegaze is not much of one at all – so it’s both unexpected and exhilarating for the group to cover “By Your Side,” a turn-of-the-century R&B ballad that’s unlike anything the 1975 have obviously pulled from. The release comes in aid of War Child, a charity that protects children living in the world’s most dangerous war zones. The opening of the cover is slow, but twinkles into a halcyon atmosphere. Healy’s vocoded voice follows, emulating the softness of Sade Adu’s vocals. The original and its remake also share the quality of a gentle, backing saxophone – an instrument that neither the 1975 or Sade have shied away from touching.
Oh when you’re cold
I’ll be there
Hold you tight to me
When you’re on the outside baby
And you can’t get in
I will show you
You’re so much better than you know
When you’re lost and you’re alone
And you can’t get back again
I will find you
Darling and I will bring you home
And if you want to cry
I am here to dry your eyes
And in no time, you’ll be fine
As the ticking, synth-heavy chorus begins, listeners are left wondering how and why this track seems to work for the 1975, especially when covering a Grammy-winning group like Sade, masters of affective quiet storm, can go easily wrong. And despite its most prominent feature – Healy’s processed vocals – this cover of “By Your Side” still isn’t one of risky experimentation. However, merits aside, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the 1975 are quite like Sade, in the sense that the pop band equally captures poignancy in their music.
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