David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 63: Rasputina (Brand New Key)

June 28, 2020

Today's lesson: don't taunt a desperate man.

Fresh off a completely unofficial, no reasonable sample, Facebook victory for Team Scotch over Team Bacon regarding the greatness of Heart, I was this morning presented with a cocksure challenge: "Bet you don't do a blog for 'Brand New Key.'"

Initially, I thought it was an accurate sentiment. I was goofing around with a couple of friends and the topic of a key came up. That led to the above statement.  My initial response, "God, I hope not, but we'll see how desperate I get about Day 355."  Then I remembered I own a CD (sadly rarely listened to) with that song, not Melanie's original 1971 hit, but a cover version by the all female cello band, Rasputina.

Yes, you read that right. "Brand New Key" was not one of the reasons I bought their CD Thanks For The Ether in 1996. It just became the song I remember them most for. When an all-cello (basically) cover of an early 1970's folk hit is maybe the sixth most interesting thing about a group, that is saying something. Let's start with the band name, which ranks with some of the greatest band names of all times. As an all female cello trio, Rasputina now has a second "wow" factor. The album title also stands out, even during a time when other CD's had shocking titles like Antichrist Superstar; Evil Empire; and Murder Ballads. On top of that, the band dressed in vintage Victorian clothes, playing a list of songs where, in terms of intrigue, the title "Brand New Key" barely registers:

"My Little Shirtwaist Fire"

"Transylvanian Concubine"

"Kate Moss"

"Rusty The Skatemaker"

"The Donner Party"

"Five Fleas."

I mean, really, "Brand New Key" is like a juggler trying to get attention at a traveling circus while the bearded lady, the sword swallower, the two-headed baby, and the world's tallest man attract all of the crowds.

For these jugglers, this is too bad. "Brand New Key" presents, in a weird way, a winsome cover, a choice similar to Devo's "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" off of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo; or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "In The Ghetto," released in advance of their debut CD, From Her To Eternity; or Dead Kennedys' "Viva Las Vegas" off of Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables -- iconic and ironic choices to suggest a certain edginess for each emerging artist.

The link below is to a live version of Rasputina's "Brand New Key." They are a band deserving of full presentation. Watch the clip: In her Victorian gown, lead singer, Melora Creager, could be a famous glamorous actress in a film adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, practicing with her sisters in the music room while all of the men smoke cigars and sip nightcaps in the study. The look creates a dramatic tension that wasn't there for Melanie 25 years earlier.  Take the first line: "I rode my bicycle past your window last night" is sweet and endearing when it is doe-eyed hippie model, Melanie, saying it. When it is Rasputina, in their vintage clothing, the obsession borders more on disturbance. Watch Melora's eyes, beautifully doe-eyed in their own rights, throughout the performance linked here: there's something distant, something not connecting. Later when Melanie would sing "Don't go so fast/but I go pretty far," most guy listeners probably chuckled and said "bring it on." However, Melora seems so uncomfortable in the spotlight, as if she is uncertain of what she even boasts, that most guys might be a little nervous as she sings the same line.

The cellos provide an emotional resonance that the keyboard infused original by Melanie lacked. While Melanie took advantage of a peppy set of background vocals to carry the song from bridge to ending, Rasputina will have none of that. For Rasputina, "Brand New Key" is a statement of desperate purpose, not playful flirtation, all cemented by a trail of percussion behind the cellos that sound like fingernails at the window. It is enough to make a guy store his key for awhile.

"Brand New Key." Thanks For The Ether. Rasputina. Columbia. 1996. Link here.

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Day 64: The Specials "Nite Klub." ->

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