Cover Story

Duncan Sheik covers Howard Jones

August 21, 2011 2 Comments

Duncan Sheik rounds up many of the usual suspects on Covers ’80s, with songs by The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, and The Smiths all appearing on Tony Award winner‘s acoustic review of the decade’s New Wave wonders. But while those bands’ discographies have regularly been explored by others, Sheik’s selections largely tread on less-worn paths. For instance, he covers The Cure’s “Kyoto’s Song” instead of “Close To Me,” and The Smiths’ “William, It Was Really Nothing” over the oft-done “How Soon Is Now” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” As Sheik points out, “The litmus test for me for choosing the songs was did I really, really care about it when I was 15 or 16?”

As you may have guessed from the quartet called out above, there’s a definite British bent to the proceedings on Covers ’80s (a direct and total one, in fact), with tunes by Thompson Twins, The Psychedelic Furs, Love And Rockets, and Tears For Fears also on the album. But Talk Talk, Japan, The Blue Nile (officially a trend) and Howard Jones also made Sheik’s parade of teen faves, adding another layer of interest to a project that ran the risk of being a nostalgic, navel-gazing lark.

In fact, it’s Sheik’s cover of Howard Jones’ “What Is Love?” that’s the keeper for me. Even as a kid, I found the chorus’ question, “Does anybody love anybody, anyway?” curiously captivating. Sheik’s acoustic arrangement strips away Jones’ original synth-pop sheen (there aren’t even drums on Covers ’80s), but his new take only strengthens the song’s matter-of-factness about the sentiment.

“It’s one of the earlier songs on the record, in terms of the year. Howard was performing on some TV show when that record first came out—I guess it was 1984, maybe 1985—and at that time, I had just gotten my first Juno 106, my first 4‐track recorder. Just seeing one guy with this bank of synthesizers and drum machines, I was so impressed that he was able to pull all this music off by himself,” Sheik says. “Also, it’s such an instantly catchy song that I loved it so much. It’s an interesting, tricky melody, and a deceptively strange chord progression. It seems like it’s straight ahead, but there’s, like, three key changes in the chorus. It was a fun project, figuring out how to play it on the guitar.”

Rachael Yamagata contributes backing vocals on “What Is Love?” as she does on eight other tracks on Covers ’80s. Hear here:

Duncan Sheik and Howard Jones have been friends for some time, with Buddhism first uniting the two musicians. Later at a songwriting camp together, they penned “Someone You Need,” which appears on Jones’ 2000 album, Perform.00.

Purchase Duncan Sheik – “What Is Love?” (Howard Jones cover) via iTunes. Free download of Sheik’s cover of Depeche Mode’s “Stripped” via his website.