Don't worry, readers of my Billboard reviews. I am not stopping those. I'm just taking it a bit slower, because I was feeling burnt out for a while. To take a break, I thought I'd bring back a series I did looking at covers and comparing them to the original. This time, I'm kicking it up a notch.
What do a flamboyant lead singer of Queen, a bearded singer-songwriter, and an eighties New Wave band have in common? They've all performed a version of the song "Mad World". But who did it better? Let's find out. I'll only be discussing the lyrics in the original version, since they are the same in all versions.
Tears for Fears
Tears for Fears was the aforementioned New Wave band. They had a few hits, with the biggest being "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World". They reunited in 2000 and are still together, if you want to check them out.
The music for this song is definitely New Wave. It starts with a weird drum beat, before a menacing synth line kicks in for the verse. The chorus doesn't exactly change musically, but the change in vocals makes the song sound a bit less menacing before the piano kicks in at the end of the chorus. Vocally, the singer is a bit too New Wave for my tastes, but he does show a fair bit of range, switching styles from being somber in the verses to being almost perky in the chorus.
The lyrics to this song, in a nutshell, are the thoughts of a man losing his grip on reality. He sees people all around him, but feels a disconnect, and in his words "the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had". However, he sees the problem being the world we live in, not himself.
This version is almost like two different songs, switching from somber in the verses to perky in the chorus. You could, in fact, say the song is bipolar, something I think was very much intentional.
This guy, the singer-songwriter, covered this song with his friend Michael Andrews for the movie Donnie Darko (which ironically had another Tears for Fears song on it, "Head Over Heels"). In so doing, he created his most popular song.
Unlike the original version, the music stays somber and minimalistic throughout the song, with the only music being a slow piano line. The singing, like the music, stays somber throughout. Gary Jules has a somewhat higher register, but he sounds like quite a few folk singers.
This version really is a different take on the song. Whereas the original version seemed a lot more insane, this one is much more depressing in tone. Not necessarily anything wrong with that.
And here we have the final person mentioned. Yes, the one from American Idol (who should have won that year, grr).
Music takes its cue from the Gary Jules version. However, it does sound slightly different, at least to me, sounding more light than heavy, and adding a harp section. As for the singing, Adam Lambert also takes a cue from the Gary Jules version, keeping a somber tone. However, he also shows a wider range, hitting some surprisingly high notes, with the note before the second chorus being especially striking.
While this song, like Gary Jules' version, is more depressing in tone than manic-depressive, it isn't quite the same. This version sounds depressing, but somewhat light, as if the singer was trying to pull themselves out of depression, but not quite succeeding.
So, which version do I think is the best? Honestly, it's hard to compare Tears for Fears' version to either of the covers, as they take a totally different tone. Therefore, the first comparison I'll make is between the Gary Jules version and the Adam Lambert version. Sorry to all you Donnie Darko fans/American Idol dislikers, but Adam Lambert wins, in my mind. He has more emotion in his voice and shows a wider range. In turn, the music is depressing, but not crushingly so like the Gary Jules version. Don't get me wrong, it worked in the context used on screen, but doesn't translate as well off.
Now, comparing Adam Lambert to Tears for Fears. This one is really tough for the reasons mentioned, but I've got to give it to Tears for Fears. their version simply sounds more insane, which fits more with the lyrics to me.
In conclusion, Tears for Fears takes home the win, with Adam Lambert as runner-up, and Gary Jules in third. However, all of the versions are quite good. Just one is better than the others.