The Bad Plus

by John Holbo on February 7, 2009

I like their new cover of “Comfortably Numb”. What do you think?



luis 02.07.09 at 3:10 pm

I think I liked them better sans vocals. :/ (And I love them, don’t get me wrong, but it’ll take me a bit of time to wrap my head around this.)


luis 02.07.09 at 3:15 pm

Lithium becomes oddly haunting with the stilted vocals, though. (I mean, Lithium was always oddly haunting, but now it is a different kind of oddly haunting.)


Donald A. Coffin 02.07.09 at 3:16 pm

I also rather like this. The vocals are something new for them, as I recall.


Ted Lemon 02.07.09 at 6:02 pm

This is going to sound a bit snarky, but I don’t mean it that way – it’s just an observation. I didn’t make it to hearing their song. Their myspace page was (a) a myspace page, and therefore too ugly to bear, and (b) had some weird javascript or flash running on it that took long enough to load that I got bored and navigated away.

Comfortably Numb is a great song – I hope their cover of it is good. Maybe when they get a group on facebook I’ll check it out… :’)


Ben Alpers 02.07.09 at 6:28 pm

I like the cuts up on MySpace, in part because I like the songs themselves (“Radio Cure” reminds me how well Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has held up). I’m actually surprised how much these covers retain (and set out to retain) the feel of the originals.


catchy 02.07.09 at 6:41 pm

The piano arpeggios are repetitive/dull + weirdly out of time. Didn’t make for a nice effect on me ears, but I liked the rest of it.


ben wolfson 02.07.09 at 7:07 pm

That their covers are mostly dull.


Righteous Bubba 02.07.09 at 7:10 pm

Didn’t like it. There’s always a degree to which a song is an act and Comfortably Numb felt more like a pose than a piece of music.


Adam Kotsko 02.07.09 at 7:20 pm

I don’t like it either.


sharon 02.07.09 at 7:26 pm

Lithium was interesting-ish in a way that didn’t actually make me bother to stick it out to the end. Comfortably Numb was unlistenable. Seriously. Sorry. (But I’m more of a fan of the Scissor Sisters approach.)


salient 02.07.09 at 8:08 pm

Comfortably Numb was unlistenable.

Maybe not quite unlistenable, but the arpeggios were just terrible. And echo vocal effects? Stale? Lame? Unclever? Whichever. A detraction. (This applies to their cover of How Deep Is Your Love equally well.) Echo does not compensate for a thin voice, or ensure that a song will be more “haunting.”

Lithium was interesting-ish in a way that didn’t actually make me bother to stick it out to the end.

They had the right idea going. With obsessive Beck-working-on-Midnite-Vultures-esque attention to detail it’d have been quite nice. Circa 3:45 was the best transition.

OK, so they love throwing unique little decorative trills and phrases throughout each song, maybe to offset repetitiveness in a verse-bridge format. Mostly it’s arbitrary, like students who alternate “Thus” and “Therefore” and “Hence” and phrases of their own making . The effect is perfect for Radio Cure, though, which doesn’t derive momentum from the anticipation a verse-bridge format allows. Less perfect for Lithium for the same reason.

Favorite: Long Distance Runaround, in which they’re free to be alternately playful, smooth, poignant.


novakant 02.07.09 at 8:55 pm

Didn’t like it, but then I think The Wall (and Wish You Were Here) are masterpieces and know every song by heart, though I haven’t listened to them in ages, so thanks for reminding me.


Ryan 02.07.09 at 9:13 pm

As salient said, Long Distance Runaround is particularly good. It’ll be hard for them to top their cover of Flim, which is one of the best covers I have ever heard.


Barry 02.07.09 at 9:16 pm

Righteous Bubba 02.07.09 at 7:10 pm

” Didn’t like it. There’s always a degree to which a song is an act and Comfortably Numb felt more like a pose than a piece of music.”

And RB wins the thread, along with a bonus for the perfect wording. It’s like they figured that the only thing wrong with the way that Pink Floyd did it was that Pink Floyd wasn’t pretentious enough.


ben wolfson 02.07.09 at 9:25 pm

The off-kilter phrasing in Lithium seems not to be in the service of anything other than off-kilter phrasing.


Ilya 02.08.09 at 12:22 am

Not sure I like the vocals. Salient’s got it right I think.


Ben 02.08.09 at 1:24 am

Ryan: Is that Flim, as in Flim the Aphex Twin track?


DN 02.08.09 at 5:42 am

I am amazed how often it happens that I am innocently reading along in a blog, respecting the proprietor of said blog, and they go and recommend some music. I (foolishly) listen. The music really, truly sucks. And then it is hard to read the blog after that without the music getting in the way. I’ve got to learn to stop doing this.


John Holbo 02.08.09 at 5:47 am

That’s rough, DN. We’ll all be pulling for you here at CT in your difficult time.


sg 02.08.09 at 12:44 pm

There should be laws against this sort of cover. Strict laws with minimum sentencing guidelines, 1-strike-and-you’re-out sorts of law-and-order approaches to butchering pink floyd. van Morrison should get the full brunt of it for murdering the same song at the Wall concert in his completely flat monotone, and Sinead O’Connor should win the VC (can Irish girls do that?) for rescuing that concert (whose organisers possibly also deserve the full weight of the law).

It’s just wrong, I tell you, wrong!


Ben 02.08.09 at 2:02 pm

Maybe this thread could be diverted to talking about the worst (and best) covers ever recorded. One of my votes would have to go to Keane’s (nauseating) cover of (the brilliant) Walker Brothers song The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. Man, it’s irritating that a band like that would ever be allowed near such a great song.

On the other hand, one of my favourite covers has to be Radiohead’s live version of Can’s Thief, which is just phenomenally good (as one would expect).

This does raise the question of what constitutes a good cover version. I’d say the covering artist should have a strong sympathy with the original sentiment, and then develop their own reading of the song. If this doesn’t happen, then what often emerges is a superficial, trite version, or something so divergent that it should more accurately be called a variation on a theme (if that at all). Brad Mehldau’s cover of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, while very good, edges into this latter category, IMO.


Dougie 02.08.09 at 2:10 pm

It would do no harm to book them for the senior common room cocktail party, but if they played too many dirge-y, jazz-influenced covers of popular seventies classics I might have to go out for a cigarette for a bit.


Ryan 02.08.09 at 4:28 pm

Yes, Aphex Twin’s Flim. Bad Plus covers it on These are the Vistas.


ejh 02.08.09 at 5:18 pm

The Wall is a masterpiece? What, like The Night Watch or the Four Quartets or the Pastoral are masterpieces?


Keith M Ellis 02.08.09 at 5:53 pm

Ah, your favorite band sucks. It never gets old.


David 02.08.09 at 8:09 pm

Started off like a bad Lou Reed imitation. I only made about a minute plus and quit to go read the snark.


ben wolfson 02.08.09 at 8:57 pm

Arguably, none of The Night Watch, The Four Quartets, and Pastoral are masterpieces.


William U. 02.08.09 at 9:17 pm

Huh, that’s funny. I just picked up a flyer featuring The Bad Plus (with whom I’m unfamiliar) because it also had The Books and Antony and the Johnsons. My jazz enthusiast officemate saw this and disparaged The Bad Plus as a novelty act.

But as far as cover bands go, I like Banjo or Freakout. If you’re familiar with Burial’s “Archangel,” check out this lo-fi acoustic, shoegazy reworking:


cliff 02.08.09 at 11:21 pm

OMG, Worst Cover Ever.

that was incredibly bad. so sad.


John Holbo 02.09.09 at 1:39 am

Well, gee, everyone, I still like that “Comfortably Numb” cover. But I do agree that the “Radio Cure” is still better.


ejh 02.09.09 at 7:14 am

#26 – by all means argue it then…


Matt L 02.09.09 at 5:07 pm

I thought it was Ok. Not brilliant, but I am glad I listened to it. And two cheers for Barry! The bad plus cover was more pretentious than pink floyd! But I think they deserve a pat on the back for taking it on.

In general, I like the Bad Plus. Its nice to have a group of people who play jazz standards based on the pop music I grew up listening to, instead of a bunch of songs from the 1930s that my grandparents listened to. I would not have much use for Jazz if it just remained fixated on covering the songs Ella Fitzgerald covered.

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