At the beginning of 2018 singer-songwriter Sophia Marshall released an EP of low-key, stripped back Kasabian covers. With the arrangements finally allowed room to breathe and a decent vocal applied, Kasabian never sounded better. Barely a month later, Marshall returned with a two track digital single centred around The Pretenders. It perhaps wasn’t as broad in appeal as the Kasabian release, but her dreamy, strung out version of the Ray Davies penned ‘I Go To Sleep’ was definitely worth hearing. The third release in her ongoing covers project, ‘Song 3’, turns its attentions to Colchester’s favourite sons, Blur, and rather disappointingly, despite the title building up hopes, she doesn’t re-imagine their indie-punk belter ‘Song 2’ in a swoon-some dream pop style. That’s not to say her three choices aren’t interesting of course, since the Blur catalogue is ripe for the picking…and it’s not like they get covered very often either. Also, two of Sophia’s re-imaginings are of a gold standard – great additions to her covers project.
Unsurprisingly, the best recording here is ‘To The End’. It doesn’t stray far from the original, but the percussion free, reverb teased approach gives it the feeling of a lost Mazzy Star b-side, particularly taking the warmth of the bass and the retro feel of the guitars into consideration. Occasional slide guitar sounds stoke up a hazy Americana-ish feel, but despite a great musical arrangement, this quickly becomes one of those tracks that’s all about the voice and Marshall sounds superb. She can be heard harmonising with herself, which would already make this a great cover, but once the whispered backing vocals appear and a wordless wail joins the lead, it becomes magical. Given the relative lack of instrumentation, it’s cool how this recording really fills space in an inviting and almost haunting way. If you only check out one of these covers, it really should be this one.
Also recommended listening, ‘Tender’ almost sounds as if it were written for Marshall to sing. Since the Blur original had a strong acoustic root, you could be forgiven for thinking that she would be content with a quick and lazy re-hash. She could have done that, sure, but credit where it’s due, she’s applied some of her previously enjoyable woozy style and made the song even more melancholic. Gone are the huge handclaps and gospel choir and gone, too, is Damon Albarn’s slightly whiny approach to the delivery of the lyric (it was never one of his best performances). In their place, the acoustic guitars are approached cautiously; tempered by occasional and tasteful electric flourishes, there’s a great dream pop vibe within the neo-Americana, while Marshall takes each line and adds a particularly mournful voice. If you’ve heard either of her previous EP releases, you’ll have a very strong idea of how this will sound straight away, but that doesn’t stop it being enjoyable.
On the flip side, the version of ‘Girls and Boys’ is very much an acquired taste. Blur’s original, much loved chart hit (and perennial indie club classic) has a cheeky air, as if it were written and performed with a knowing wink. Stripped of its bounce and with all electronica elements replaced by ukulele, it’s almost everything that could be bad about stripped down covers. There’s no warmth, little imagination and it sounds as if it’s been manufactured for a television advert. It could be said that with the ‘Parklife’ album being the closest the Britpop generation ever had to their own ‘Sgt. Pepper’ perhaps covering this was a bad move…but, then again, ‘To The End’ came out rather fabulously. It’s more likely that ‘Girls and Boys’ was too quirky in it’s own right and you really can’t replicate that kind of frivolity with a uke. Sorry, but as instruments go, it’s very much a love/hate affair.
Even with a bit too much ukulele and no ‘Song 2’ (“Woooo-hooooo!”), ‘Song 3’ is an interesting addition to Sophia Marshall’s covers project. ‘To The End’ and ‘Tender’ are better than anything on Sophia’s previous releases and those alone makes this a recommended listen, whether you’re a Blur fan or not. In the words of Meat Loaf, “two outta three ain’t bad”…
Grab a free download from Sophia’s official website here.