It’s always refreshing to hear artists clear their throats and drop some real talk.
When I asked John Linnell of They Might Be Giants last week (he’s the handsome chap singing in the video below) what he thought about Titus Andronicus’s recent cover of his much-loved 1990 classic “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” for The A.V. Club’s Undercover Series, he stood up for the integrity of the song he wrote. A song that many consider to be an all-time great pop and rock song, not just one of his own best efforts. Here’s what he said:
“It was fine. It was totally fine. I don’t want to seem like a cranky old man for saying it wasn’t … I think Titus Andronicus has this thing that they do that works really well with their material and it turns my brain inside out to hear that applied to our song because it’s such a different thing.
“I don’t know what anybody thought about it. To me, it’s a very weird experience. I salute them for taking that on, and I have nothing but respect for them. You can see I’m trying to be diplomatic. It sounds really egotistical, but I like our version better.”
It seems to me (and to Linnell, I imagine) that with their sloppier, more avant-garde interpretation of the song (not an insult- just an observation of the indie-punk band's style), Titus Andronicus snuffed “Birdhouse”’s warmer sentiments. The reason it’s beloved is because of the wish to hold on to silliness and childhood purity the song expresses, per the nite-light imagery (“keep the light on inside the birdhouse in your soul”) and the song's scene (it all takes place in a child’s bedroom). I understand and sympathize with Linnell’s wishes to maintain these very powerful, meaningful aspects of this, arguably his greatest work. Compare the two, and see for yourself.