Spotify is quite possibly the internet's best, craftiest, music marketing device. Yes, it's also a delightful, wonderful and exceptional music playing, seeking and loving platform, but Spotify wants you to check out what it wants you to check out. While pondering a review of the Shins' newest Port of Morrow, a great album in its own right, but one that you'll like if you like the Shins or dislike if you don't, Spotify pushed Birdy's (15 year-old Brit Jasmine van den Bogaerde) new album titled Birdy into my ad-susceptible face. The pitch there was that Birdy covers Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" and being the sucker for covers that I am--Oh fuck, I'm a sucker for covers!--I decided to give the album a look. Turns out, van den Bogaerde/Birdy is pretty damn good. Within Birdy she covers Phoenix's "1901," Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal," The Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone," and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." Birdy does each song justice in a way, but as is the problem with the dearth of covers brought to us by the internet, these songs don't change very much. That's not always a problem, but paradoxically, it also always is a problem.
Birdy's smooth, airy, pure voice is a joy to listen to. She evokes pain and sweetness in each held note. But, she also takes little in the way of chances here. Now, she's 15. And who am I to judge her work? It's remarkable that she so confidently and fully sings each of these tracks, but I would trade the purity of her voice for some more risk. Each of those key covers sound like slower versions of the originals. It's the same problem that struck in the AV Club's second cover of 2012's AV Undercover when Memoryhouse covers the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." It's not bad, but it doesn't add anything to the song. Or to the experience. Being able to sing does not a rock star/musician make. We've had years of American Idol winners who GO NOWHERE to prove that fact. Birdy does great work with "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," but otherwise, the music is an exercise in re-hearing the already heard. The best covers flip a song over and teach it some new tricks; see the Sex Pistols' "My Way," Lou Barlow's "Round and Round," and Johnny Cash's "I Hung My Head" for examples.
Birdy is enjoyable, and emotionally wrought, though, and that makes it a worthwhile listen and a great album. If nothing else, this is a promising glimpse into what van den Bogaerde can do. The songs are all winners. And her turn on them, sad, sometimes jazzy, sometimes with a breathy indie dream-pop flutter, works. The judgements I make above are more about covers than about Birdy's execution. It's a larger issue that either one must do it as good as the original, or make it one's own. With Birdy there are moments that teeter on the edge of either one, but never seem to redefine the original text. It's a pleasant, kinda, sweet, heartfelt and enjoyable listen, but these covers won't supplant their source materials.
Listen to the album on Spotify here: Birdy – Birdy
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