The Bad Plus – It’s Hard

The Bad Plus "It's Hard"Prince, Barry Manilow, Cyndi Lauper, Kraftwerk, and Peter Gabriel all on one album –  a cover album by piano trio extraordinaire The Bad Plus. It is anyone’s guess if the title of the album refers to the difficult process of finding suitable cover songs for an album like this or to the fact that it can indeed become a dangerous undertaking to record well-known songs or lesser-known songs by well-known pop artists.

Ethan Iverson (piano), Reid Anderson (bass), and David King (drums) open their latest effort with a track from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. With “Maps”, they start to deconstruct the original in such a way that it is hardly recognizable. But it shouldn’t be the task anyway of trying to find out where and what exactly the group took from the originals and what they added in their arrangements. There are only a few notes of Peter Gabriel‘s “Games Without Frontiers” which pave the way for a totally new song (except for the bridge which sounds a bit awkward here). And it works.

The most prominently covered song here is certainly Cindy Lauper‘s “Time After Time”, and with Ethan’s passionate piano work, thankfully the song’s original message and lyric are kept in sync. The offbeat and behind the beat drumming give it the special spin that makes it all suitable for this collection. The repetitive way how Ethan is using the main title is refreshing and exciting at the same time. So is the country-jazz of “I Walk The Line”, Johnny Cash‘s masterpiece treated here to an almost carnivalesque oddity. Nice one.

The trio manages to keep the retro soul-rock of “The Beautiful Ones”, the Prince piece from “Purple Rain”, and combines it with cascading piano touches while the song keeps moving. It’s a good and necessary treat that mood and tempo are shifting to slow gear, like on the beautiful interpretation of “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, the 1986 Crowded House song that has become something of a standard by now. Here, Reid’s bass is prominently featured at the core of the tune. Indie rock band TV On The Radio are added here with their “Staring At The Sun”, which doesn’t really click.

It is funny, brave, and simply brilliant to feature Barry Manilow‘s kitsch masterpiece “Mandy”. The final output is a bit lengthy though – it would have been a nicer effect if the song had been much shorter, I think. And Kraftwerk‘s “The Robots” (“Die Roboter”) has all the techno effects it needs. It sounds as avantgarde as the original. Also interesting that the more familiar cover territory for The Bad Plus, the music of Ornette Coleman, is treated here with a bittersweet “Broken Shadows”.

Check out The Bad Plus on tour with their new album (select dates):

10/01 Leipzig, Schauspielhaus

10/04 Nantes, Salle Paul Fort

10/06 Lugano, Radio RSI

10/10 Berlin, A-Trane

10/12 Singen, Kulturzentrum GEMS

10/14 Leibnitz, LeibnitzKULT

10/17 Amsterdam, Bimhuis

11/04 Geneva, AMR

11/09 Paris, New Morning

11/14 Krefeld, Theater

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