Lana Del Rey has proven to be a polarising figure in the pop music landscape. She’s not as dramatic as Lady Gaga, nor is she as Twitter-ragey as Azealia Banks. Many have taken issue with her icy demeanor, not to mention there was that time she spoke about wanting to join the 27 club, as if dying was no big deal and way better than you know, enjoying a life with family and friends. Her breakthrough hit Born To Die was the first taste the world got of her desire to journey down the River Styx and since then there’s been no going back.
Sydney’s Wells gives Lana Del Rey a run for her money with a haunting cover of the seminal hit Born To Die.
To put it bluntly, it’s a beast of a song. Many have tried to emulate it in the years past including local Aussie hardcore outfit The Amity Affliction who did a pretty good job of it, which is unsurprising since mortality is a big thing for those guys. After countless remixes, re-works and re-touches, you’d think we’d run out of ways to dress this little ditty up. Yet today we have a cover that stands up to the original quite well.
Alastair Cairns, front man of Sydney band Wells, has been busy of late playing shows and prepping audiences for the release of the band’s debut EP The Pale King. The band saw a lot of success with the release of their first single Fractures and the follow-up Shepherd late last year. While we patiently wait to hear the EP in its entirety, the band holed up in Enmore Audio to put their own spin on the Del Rey classic.
I don’t mean to compare Wells to The Amity Affliction, but a comparison has to be made nonetheless. Amity did what they do best and charged their cover with their standard breakdowns and Joel Birch’s guttural screams. It suited the band and amped up the melodrama of the song tenfold. Wells differs in the most obvious way is with his more stripped back approach and a melody that resembles the original. Where he does better than the Aussie hardcore heroes is with his delivery.
If you’re familiar with Wells then you know that Cairns is a perfect fit for Born To Die. His songs wind up in some pretty dark places, so thematically the cover fits him like a glass slipper. Unlike Del Rey, Cairns’ delivery is far more sympathetic. Whereas the original, (and for the most part the majority of Del Rey’s persona) bears a nihilistic sting Cairns softens you up with his heart-on-the-sleeve performance. It’s just a change in vocal delivery but it makes all the difference in giving Born To Die a new face.
Recored wonderfully at Sydney recording studio Enmore Audio, the arrangement is suitably unnerving as the vocals deliver those feelings of hopelessness with finesse. In place of the dramatic string section we have a low key organ and guitar that move like a row boat gently floating down a river. As a haunting backing vocal achingly hollers in the background you know it’s not the falling temperature that’s sending chills down your spine. The harmonica at the end there is a nice touch as it meanders in the outro.
Given the themes lack of purpose and depression, the sound of the harmonica trailing off at the end is a bittersweet conclusion. In the moments of silence that follow don’t be surprised to find yourself ruminating on the meaning of your own life.
Wells’s music has that effect, and quite frankly Born To Die is better off for it.