Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Julia Holter – Don’t Make Me Over

From Cedric, a cover of a Warwick classic…


Cédric Le Merrer: “Don’t Make Me Over” started as a real life outburst from Dionne Warwick after one more of the songs promised to her by Bacharach and David ended up with a different artist. Hal David shrewdly turned his anger over the recording industry trying to dictate her style into a plea to a (presumably) asshole lover. This was a smash that launched one of the greatest songwriters/performer teams in history, but also a watermark in the history of pop — a declaration of individuality in the age of mechanical reproduction. The first version of “Don’t Make Me Over” I heard was probably a yéyé cover by Les Surfs re-titled “T’en vas pas comme ça”. Or maybe it was a cover “in the manner of Les Surfs” by a bunch of anonymous session musicians who recorded the discount tapes my mother had in the car. Either of those was, if not for the lyrics adapted by Pierre Delanoë, an attempt to replicate the original as possible. Now that every song’s original version is just a click away, there’s very little reason to record such faithful covers (bar the occasional industry foreign market mismanagement that’s seized on by industrious copycats). So Julia Holter’s cover comes at a time when re-arranging is the expectation: you need to project your own aura on a song, for fear of being accused of the terrible sin of karaoke. So the arrangement, more than the performance, is in charge of explaining who’s Julia Holter and what it is we should accept her for. It begins with plucked acoustic bass and brushed drum, two very bourgeois signifiers in 2014 (while, interestingly, the jazzy touches of the 1962 original probably still signified exactly the opposite). Then Holter’s high pitched, reverbed voice enters the scene, and her flat singing is like the blues never happened. It’s all fairly minimalistic, but it does that Isaac Hayes trick of finding some circular melodic lines to progressively build something epic, which will culminate once Holter plays her calling card: her multitracked voice. Here it sings powerful single notes (is she saying “love” or simply “la”?) that seem to counter the line she’s just uttered: we don’t really have her at our command. She’s becoming more and more of an unstoppable force, commanding that we accept her for what she is. Dionne Warwick’s performance showed her strength laying in her emotions. Holter made the song over to show us her own power: bludgeoning us with pure musical prowess.

Anthony Easton: Somewhere between Julie London and Leslie Gore, this self-esteem anthem is so haunting you assume a layer of disingenuousness. That it might be earnest makes the performance so much more effective. 

Alfred Soto: Cristina’s take on “Is That All There Is” owns this one-syllable-at-a-time affected anomie.

Iain Mew: Julia Holter holds up a cracked mirror to nostalgia. It’s unusual and effective, and it feels like there are ghosts hiding in each of the record’s ample silences, but it’s also a bit too distancing to love.

Brad Shoup: When limning the Velvets, a lot of folks squeeze into the leather pants. Some have decamped for the couch with their acoustic guitars. Holter inhabits the Nicoverse. There’s a distinct Teutonic tinge to her reading, a distancing, toughening effect. The players tear into the stops on the “accept me for what I am” part, a true act-stopper; for the finish, the backing vocals are compressed, like a girl group that barely escaped the black hole. The ending kills me, and has for months: the strings are winding up for another peak, but Holter cuts them out for a single, final ping. The request is made.

Thomas Inskeep: Like Nico with jazz training, singing Bachrach/David in front of slightly off-kilter production. Also like if those anachronistic covers Jessica Lange sings on American Horror Story: Freak Show were actually any good. This is weird, and interesting. 

Sonia Yang: Brings to mind a happier Lana Del Rey. I definitely prefer this over the original. There’s still a palpable layer of schmaltz (can’t you see She & Him doing a twee rendition of this cover and adding a glockenspiel?) but what the heck, it’s close enough to Christmas; I’ll take it.

Patrick St. Michel: A reverent cover of the original; Julia Holter’s voice isn’t quite as strong as Warwick’s, but she makes up for it with the handful of echoes deep in the mix, carrying the song to a strong conclusion.

Katherine St Asaph: For once I prefer the droll, stark and slightly off take, the near-deconstruction, to the reverent choral-and-strings reverie Holter’s “Don’t Make Me Over” succumbs to. Blame my love of Dynamite and People Are Strange. I won’t actually fault her; the song tells me no.

Josh Winters: An important facet of Julia Holter’s work is how she repurposes her influences in her own music. The original “Don’t Make Me Over” already had a element of theatricality to it, but here she scales her version back and infuses it with body and verve, letting herself simmer as she builds up to a final declaration that is both lavish and understated, like a peacock modestly showing off its feathers. “Don’t Make Me Over” wasn’t included on Loud City Song, but as a stand-alone single, it feels like her grandest statement, the lost encore for her dazzling spectacle of a show.

Maxwell Cavaseno: You know, at the end of the day, MOR is kinda experimental. Standards are always getting flipped, recycled, reprocessed, to see which version of the same old song will “work” the “best.” I had a treasure trove of covers once on a long deceased external hard drive, and it taught me a lot about how you can stretch a song. So when Julia Holter shows up, after all of her fabulous experimental takes on pop, to do a rendition of a Bacharach song, someone’s going to think it’s a statement, but not REALLY. Because good standards are about experimentation.

Will Adams: Shame about the chorus effect on Holter’s vocals — it removes her from the song’s realm and creates a tension throughout. The rest is beautifully, classically arranged — those string swells come in at all the right moments — so I’m puzzled by the concession to modernity.

Megan Harrington: It’s her party and you won’t tell her what to do. 

Scott Mildenhall: The effect of the strings throughout the back half is very similar to what happens at the end of “Everybody Hurts”: a final swell to both escalate and tie up the grandeur they follow. It’s a stately elegance with a raised head and assertive posture. The title is less a plea than a requirement, and Holter is basking in it.

Reader average: [7.5] (2 votes)

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5 Responses to “Julia Holter – Don’t Make Me Over”

  1. “a declaration of individuality in the age of mechanical reproduction”

    does “mechanical reproduction” actually do any work here or are you just making a pretentious Walter Benjamin allusion?

    are you campaigning to be the new Anthony? because Anthony’s comment is surprisingly straightforward this time out.

  2. I have to say that much of Cédric’s post is rather brilliant, but that coy allusion stuck in my craw.

  3. also, does anyone else hear Holter affecting a somewhat Germanic accent, or a Nico accent more particularly? I’m not sure what “work” that’s doing, either, except as a kind of alienation effect. it should be said that this is one of Holter’s most straightforward/faithful covers, esp. compared to her covers of Barbara Lewis, Roxy Music, etc.

  4. also, does anyone else hear Holter affecting a somewhat Germanic accent, or a Nico accent more particularly?


  5. I kinda wanted to make a point about how the aura’s disappearance in the pop era moving from the individual object to the individual performance and then the individual re-interpretation. But it probably was either underdeveloped because of my fear of adding too much to this big wall of text or maybe it is just really glib.

    Anyway, I’m happy you thought some of the rest was brilliant. You’re totally right that Holter’s other covers are more radical reworkings. Still, taken on its own this one is pretty far from the original too.