Updated: Mar 13
The best part about cover’s is getting to compare them. As much as we tend to compare ourselves to others, perhaps sometimes it is better to channel that energy elsewhere. And so we have the premise for this article: A comparison of Nick Drake’s Cello song and Fontaines D.C.’s Cello song.
The first to be released, ‘Cello song’ covered by Fontaines D.C. is one of a list of track’s off a Nick Drake cover album, which I can only presume is just homage to the legendary singer/songwriter. One of the more popular and well-known Nick Drake songs, Cello song is a triumph of guitar, rhythm and musical beauty. The name ‘Cello song’ is not just for fun of course, the cello in the piece is sparse but effective. The instrument is less piercing than its sibling, the violin, and instead has an added warmth and depth that few instruments can resemble. Throughout the song, it almost acts like bass at times, providing percussion and pitch to the song. The nod to the folk baroque style of music somewhat emerging at the time of Nick Drake’s music, is clear throughout his first record. ‘Cello song’ is no different. As well as this, the song conjures up images of green pastures bursting with life at the beginning of the Spring season almost like those described in the children’s novel ‘The Secret Garden’. The sophistication of the cello with its trills dawning in a new season and a new sun.
On the other hand, Fontaines D.C. show a different approach to the song. Fontaines may be a guitar band but they’re not the same guitars that Nick Drake normally played. The song doesn’t really sound like a Nick Drake song anymore, it sounds like a Fontaines song. Which is not at all a bad thing. Those who try to make covers that are exact copies of originals cannot be expected to be praised for their creativity and singular voice if their production is really imitation. This is always the challenge with covering songs, and a challenge indeed it was what awaited Fontaines D.C. with a project like this. They did a lot of things differently and really made it their own. The drums or percussion is almost entirely different and gives a whole different rhythmic feel to the song. Put simply, if you were dancing to each song, you wouldn’t be dancing the same for both. The namesake cello in the song is used differently too. For a moment, you might suggest there isn’t a cello in the song at all given it’s turned down very low in the mix. As well as this, the addition of a violin (or viola, or even using the higher register of the cello itself, I can’t quite tell) makes it harder to distinguish the cello from the other instruments on the track. Essentially, their approach to the cello was more subtle than Drakes. Despite the two songs sounding very distinct from each other in more than one way, there is much that they share. As the cover goes on it seems to more and more resemble that of Drake’s original. The brightness of the song resumes closer to the end of the cover with the plucked acoustic guitar and the transition from a constant drone and into a more chordal musical landscape.
Much of what made Drake’s death so sad was how young he was. At only 26, he scarcely had breathed much life. Cello song is as much a song about life and youth as it is about the coming of Spring. Nick Drake is one stuck in youth. He was one who never got to grow old. To cover a song so encompassing of the life and death of the artist is something Fontaines did precisely and did very well. Their more industrial sound as opposed to Drake’s sound of flora and fauna, give a rawness of reality that Drake’s work sometimes lacked. Nick Drake’s songs sing a sound of escapism which so many find comfort in. Fontaine’s take this feeling of escape or optimism and hold it carefully in their hands, only to reveal it sometimes throughout the beautiful song. But I think their greatest achievement was picking a song to cover because with an artist like Nick Drake's it is much easier to find a song you do like than one you don’t. All of them are such masterpieces.