Cover Me

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Two years in the making, Cover Me is Nena's "double helping" of cover versions, taking in an hour-long history tour of Anglo-American songs on one CD, and over an hour of delving into the (often more recent) German music landscape on the other. Nena's original idea was to take a break from her own songwriting and interpret a number of songs that inspired her to become a singer during the '70s (and provided her with emotional shelter, hence the album title). The impressive first third of the English album goes straight for Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan classics, "The Last Time" and "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" bouncing along at a slightly livelier pace than the originals and "She's a Rainbow" blazing with sweetness and color, then things slow right down to a meander through Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You," which leads into the stylistically uneven middle third. Uneven also because the songs here chosen from the '90s can't really compete with the rock-solid classics from further back that hold this half of the project together. (By the way, don't worry -- no German accent anywhere, another of Nena's talents!) Probably the biggest surprise is that Nena manages to pull off the feat of tackling "Blowin' in the Wind" while seriously updating it to fit into louder and less hopeful times, thus proving that she indeed knows a thing or two about new wave coarseness, even though the bulk of Cover Me proves how rooted she is in the hopeful, ambitious culture of the '60s. And the '70s, for that matter: David Bowie's "Starman" and "Heroes" (the latter on the German CD) cover both poles of that decade's euphoric and downtrodden phases. The last third impresses most, with a classy 'n' sassy short sharp version of "Big Yellow Taxi," a slinky but almost faithful rendering of the mighty "Children of the Revolution" (not fixing what ain't broke!), and ending with the solemn trio of "After the Goldrush," "Us and Them," and Peter Gabriel's more recent (heavy but intricate) masterpiece on inner demons, "Darkness."

Darkness being a leitmotif of Nena's releases this decade, the selections on the German CD indeed tend to pull the listener to the dark side, be it via the classic German new wave urgency of "Eiszeit" ("Ice Age"), or the remarkable dark party bounce of the irresistible "Remmi Demmi" (originating in this very decade). Much of the rest is, however, left to balladry of various sorts, some of it pastoral, some lighter hearted, but always emphatic. Especially for those who understand German, this half of the album is not necessarily an easy emotional ride. Climaxing in grand '60s orchestral jazz-tinged style, "Das Jahr 2000" ("The Year 2000") is excavated from Hildegard Knef's songbook, and the juxtaposition of the song's musings on what the (then) future would hold and our current knowledge of how things actually turned out makes for a surprising and thoughtful (and elegantly beautiful) ending. It also relates straight back to the sentiment of the only new non-cover song, at the beginning of the album, "Mach Die Augen Auf," a wake up call to "open our eyes" -- (another of those '60s traditions, but embedded here in a spaced out '70s/'90s rock vibe). Throughout the broad landscape of the album then, Nena's hope seems to be that listeners might also find a sense of shelter from the songs she's selected here.

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