TRACK: Black Marble – ‘Johnny and Mary’: Robert Palmer gets the lofi synth look

Black Marble's Chris Stewart, photographed by Ashley Leahy

EVERYONE loves a cover version, there can be no argument there; what do they do with the song? Do they tread carefully and deferentially; do they take a sledgehammer to it; do they make it their own? Do they make it something very odd indeed, such as Robyn Hitchcock’s a capella take on “Kung Fu Fighting”?

Black Marble, the musical alter-ego of Anglophile synthwave man Chris Stewart is no different. He’s a music-maker and a music-lover. A few weeks ago we took a look at his take on Wire’s “In Manchester”, which we found stayed true to that stripped-back post-punk aesthetic, whilst also moving it in a more contemporary synthwave direction; and now he’s unveiled his take on that half-forgotten, pre-powersuited rock little nugget of Robert Palmer’s. “Johnny And Mary.”

Yr. humble scribe looked back at his own relationship with the song, recalled it getting a fair old amount of airplay on 80s’ radio (it still probably is getting an occasional run-out during drivetime the length and breadth of the land); found it intriguingly hook-laden, a definite guilty pleasure.

Great minds think alike. Chris had this to say: “A lot of people know Robert Palmer as this slightly garish, 1980s pop icon, but not everyone is aware of his early, more bedroomy, synth stuff he wrote before he really got big. 

“It’s not hard to find this old song kind of enchanting and more accessible than his ‘Addicted to Love’ era stuff … and since the themes of the song deal with someone who’s undergoing sort of a career crisis, ‘scared that he’ll be caught, without a second thought,’ I thought it would be interesting to cover. 

“It also felt nice to give some props to an early tune, focusing on a time in his ascent before a lot of inevitable complications.”

Black Marble gives the song a nice tonal makeover, bringing in slick wah-wah guitar, chattering sequencers and a nicely lofi synth feel. It really suits his voice. It kinda subverts it and rebirths it as a leftfield bedroom indie anthem. Now there’s a reclamation!

It’s the second track Chris has unveiled in advance of his forthcoming, five-track covers EP,  I Must Be Living Twice, on which he also takes on artists as diverse as Kranky’s deep ambient practitioner Grouper, and Sarah Records legends The Field Mice.

The EP is out on August 14th via Sacred Bones; there’s a nice pink vinyl pressing, which you order at Bandcamp, here.

Our review of the EP will be published on August 9th.

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