Was Tapes 'n Tapes cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" wise?
One of the surprises of the Current's 7th Birthday festivities at First Avenue this past weekend was undeniably Tapes 'n Tapes' climactic cover of Prince's epic hit "Purple Rain." Our Gimme Noise correspondent called it a "faithful, emphatic" take on the classic, and added that when staffers joined the band (and members of the evening's other groups) onstage, "it was a stirring, unifying moment." But, was it a sound plan artistically? After all, the song is notoriously long, it stretches a range of dynamics, emotions, and octaves in a way that only Prince can, and it shares the name with a flawed, but iconic film that is a love letter to the Twin Cities' music scene.
Tapes 'n Tapes is far from the first act to try and cover this beautiful beast of a tune. Two recent examples that exhibit total failure include this stinker by Staind frontman Aaron Lewis during an acoustic solo performance. At about the 1:15 mark, it begins, and the female-heavy crowd is with him -- although they seem ready to hoot any time he emits anything from the stage. Ultimately, he seems to make the song out to be a joke, which I guess is appropriate when your own material is so laughable.
Then, we have Enrique Iglesias. This actually starts out with some promise, since he seems to want to bring his over-the-top emotionalism to the track -- until he can't remember the lyrics. Depressing.
And countless others have tried. Among those that haven't been scrubbed from the web by Prince's notorious suit against YouTube, is Hootie, AKA Darius Rucker, managing a karaoke-worthy attempt, but nothing special. Is anyone going to sit through seven minutes of LeAnn Rimes scatting over this? Embedding Tom Jones and David Gilmour's soulless, melismatic nightmare of a version would suggest there would be anything gained by actually watching. The Pink Floyd legend's guitar solo is somehow even worse than Jones' contribution.
Having heard all of those, let's be clear that Tapes 'n Tapes' Saturday exploration of "Purple Rain" is miles above the worst. And it's certainly better than the Wallflowers' covering "Raspberry Beret" during a First Avenue visit in the mid-'90s. As this snippet shows, Josh Grier obviously planned out his vocal attack -- possibly too much for the emotion of the moment to allow any deviation from the original. But the well-past-toasted crowd is singing along loud enough that this celebratory moment won't be diminished.
Ultimately, Tapes 'n Tapes is not an R&B group, and this rendition won't make you think that they should be. With so many songs out there in the Prince catalog that aren't quite so demanding, and certainly are more rock-oriented, maybe "Alphabet St." for next time? If there's any doubt about the gap between any other artist and what the "Purple Rain" originator can do, just skip to the three-minute mark of his 2007 Super Bowl halftime performance. This song is meant to make you cry, and this is how it's done.
In his hands, this is one of the most dynamic songs in pop in the pop canon, and after this moment in front of millions, why anyone -- including Prince -- would believe they could do justice to that song again is a mystery. What did you think of Saturday's performance?
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