Monday, May 11, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #10

Strawberry Switchblade

It has always been a standard strategy in the Punk and New Wave scene to cover songs that were originally done in a style so removed from Punk or New Wave as to make one have to hear it to believe it. The Dickies built a career on hyper-speeding loping melodies like "Sounds of Silence" or "Nights in White Satin"; the Flying Lizards reduced classics like "Summertime Blues" and "Money" to minimalist clatter; Wendy O. Williams led the Plasmatics through thorough thrashings of "Stand By Your Man" and "Dream Lover".

This week's entry in the New Wave for the New Week series is another cross-genre cover, but in this case far less ironic than those I have listed. Strawberry Switchblade was a synthopop duo from Scotland. Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson got together in 1983, and within a year had scored a #5 UK hit with the single "Since Yesterday", a classic example of later-era New Wave. For our purposes here, however, we focus on their second-biggest single, which only reached #53 in the UK in 1985 (none of their singles charted in the USA), a cover of Dolly Parton's country tearjerker "Jolene".

Giving the song an electronic makeover, the Switchblade created a track that sounds almost happy on the surface, but McDowall's plaintive vocals quickly counteract the bubbly keyboards. Couple that with the manipulations of colorful and colorless visuals in the video clip, and it's a rather powerful take on the song.

Strawberry Switchblade didn't last long. They released one album and a handful of singles, and split up in 1986. Rose McDowall was the obvious star of the two, cultivating a mysterious, compelling and attractive persona that rode the line between cute New Wave chick and intimidating Goth girl. She would go on to work with bands like Coil, Nurse with Wound, and Psychic TV (playing up the Gothic side of her personality), then reversed course in 1988 by releasing a Switchblade-esque cover of "Don't Fear the Reaper" as a solo single. Then, in the late '90s, she formed a folk-rock group called Sorrow, who released a few records before disappearing. She continues to sporadically release material and keep everyone guessing.

No guessing about this week's New Wave for the New Week, though. Here it is, Strawberry Switchblade's "Jolene":

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