Not long ago, our esteemed Ex-Prez-In-Rez and I had a discussion regarding Linkin Park’s second album, Reanimation. For those who aren’t familiar with Reanimation, the concept is brilliant in its simplicity: give existing songs to different producers and guests, and see what they’d do with them. In its essence it is a covers album — with the small caveat of being solely comprised of Linkin Park’s own material. I’m hard pressed to think of another album that’s done the same before or after.
Taking a wildly successful album, handing it off to a bunch of producers/artists to reimagine? A risky endeavour, yet Reanimation is the highlight of Linkin Park’s discography. It is, in its conception and execution, an artistic endeavour that completely eclipses its template, Hybrid Theory. There’s a bravery in allowing creative vision to be manipulated by others, yet in this instance it turned out better than the original. Some artists benefit from having absolute creative control, yet, for Linkin Park, the opposite was true. As a more generic band, they profited artistically from allowing external visions to alter their already highly successful product.
This isn’t to say all the songs on Reanimation are quality; quite the opposite. Some songs, particularly the songs where the rap aspect is dominant, are poor at best. However, the songs where the rap takes a backseat to a nu-metal/electronic element truly excel far beyond the originals, making Reanimation a highly successful endeavour, musically and artistically.
This conversation sparked between W. and myself a discussion of the merits of allowing a personal artistic vision to be altered by an outside force, from something as simple as covers to the experiments of Trent Reznor uploading songs online for fans to remix or Carcass’ cover of Bjork’s “Isobel”.
However, not all art, left to the interpretation of external artists, is done well. For an example, compare the versions of “Land of Confusion” below:
Clearly the Disturbed version, regardless of how you feel about Disturbed as a band, is a better interpretation of the original song. In Flames, in a complete appropriation of the original, ruined the feel, vibe, mood — and, as a direct consequence, the message of the original. Sure, it sounds like an In Flames song. But is that what the song should feel like? Or, rather, should the song not sound like a Genesis song but escalated? How well did the bouncy feel of the original track translate into Disturbed’s nu-metal aesthetic? I am inclined to argue that Mike Rutherford’s tune feels better as a nu-metal track than it did as an 80s synth tune. Reanimation took greater risks with the source material than Disturbed did with “Land of Confusion,” but while its songs may have altered the source material as much or more than In Flames did in their above cover, the crucial difference is In Flames appropriated the song, hijacked it, while Reanimation escalated the original material. Linkin Park’s sound was never far away from the electronics-heavy Reanimation, but it feels like a concentrated version of the same material.
Sometimes an artist needs an external influence on their work to escalate it to what it could be, and sometimes the artist needs full creative control to truly realize the pinnacle of their artistic vision. This dichotomy can fluctuate within genres, artists, albums, or even songs. So now it’s your turn: which albums, songs, artists, have benefited from having external influence on their work? (whether that be a new producer or simply a cover) And, conversely, which artists have completely missed the mark in their reinterpretation of another piece of art? Link your examples in the comments below.
(Header image from the album Reanimation by Linkin Park)