Analogue Music | Greg Laswell - Covers II
Greg Laswell: Covers II

Greg Laswell: Covers II

Artist: Greg Laswell · Written by Matt Conner



For the most part, you'd never know these weren't Greg Laswell songs.

When a favorite artist veers off-course and releases a side project, a covers album, a greatest hits collection or something other than a typical studio LP, it's primarily seen as a letdown. After all, a favorite artist earned that honor because their own original work was taken as meaningful to the listener for one reason or another. We all anxiously await the latest album from our most loved artists and bands because we want more of what made us favor them in the first place.

Fortunately for Greg Laswell's fans, the singer-songwriter's newest venture, Covers II, reinvents eight of the artist's own favorite tunes to a point that they're easily taken for his own. In fact, if not for the giant title across the album's cover art, you might believe the San Diegan was already back with another set of songs after last year's introspective triumph, Next Time.

Laswell's covers are largely gloomy ones, and his dark orchestral treatment is laid atop most of the familiar melodies here. To provide some contrast and company, friend and fellow artist Molly Jenson is invited to provide vocal work on half of the tracks, which helps with depth and levity on occasion.

Royksopp's stellar "Something in My Heart" kicks off the eight-song project and the track sinks all the way to the heart's floor from the outset. The Norwegian duo originally provided a pulsing synth sample or two to help propel the track along even as it retained its lonely refrain: "There's something in my heart that makes me miss you more." Laswell sheds any such buoyancy and provides Jenson's vocal with a strong cello backing that gives it a more proper (read: darker) setting.

Laswell's songs have oft-documented failed relationships, dashed expectations, confused circumstances—their power derived from the connection formed in such vulnerable spaces.

From there, the mix only goes deeper (read: even darker) with Laswell's lower register taking over. "Never Let Me Down Again," originally a Depeche Mode release from the late '80s, is right at home in Laswell's catalog. While Depeche Mode's song is a drug trip set to early British electropop, Laswell's version enhances the desperation originally expressed by Dave Gahan. On one side, the singer expresses "See the stars, they're shining bright/ Everything's all right tonight." Yet such sentiments are undone by his constant titular plea: "Never let me down."

Other highlights on Covers II include "Crank," originally released by Catherine Wheel in '93, and "Without You I'm Nothing," a Placebo tune from '98. The former has been stripped of its distorted guitar work, but Laswell adds and removes layers of his own to bring this unfortunately forgotten tune (and band) back to the surface. The latter is perhaps the saddest song of the set as Laswell haunts, "Take the plan and see it sideways ... Without you I'm nothing at all."

If all of this sounds overwhelming or too sorrowful, it might be. In a way, Laswell's albums have always met the listener on such lonely ground. Laswell's songs have oft-documented failed relationships, dashed expectations, confused circumstances—their power derived from the connection formed in such vulnerable spaces. In short, if it lacked a shadow side, it wouldn't fit in his catalog.

That said, however, "Don't Give Up" was certainly an intentional add on the end of Covers II. Originally an older Peter Gabriel track, Molly Jenson is, once again, invited back, this time to play Gabriel's role, while Laswell switches to cover Kate Bush's guest work on the original. Together they sing:

Don't give up
'Cause I believe there's a place
There's a place where we belong

For the Laswell fan who rides this out to the end, it's here where the payoff is most appreciated. Once again, Laswell is the patient friend willing to meet you at the lowest and loneliest spots. There, on that desperate ground, to offer such a word of hope is to apply salve at the deepest level. Laswell's done this many times before, and it's a real gift he extends even on a set of songs that aren't his own.