Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.
Bic Runga is a living legend in New Zealand music and, with her impending induction to the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame, one has to wonder: why are we commemorating an artist still in their prime?
Hussein: No, you’re not alone: even Bic Runga herself thinks it might be too soon for her to be inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame. “On the one hand I'm honoured to have my contribution to New Zealand music recognised,” she told the NZ Herald last week. “But on the other hand, such an award can sometimes imply your best days are behind you.”
Whatever your thoughts are, the acknowledgement was at least inspiration enough for Runga to finish her new record. Now we have Close Your Eyes, the first single and title track from the release.
The song itself is one of two originals from an album otherwise made up of covers from the likes of Roberta Flack, Francoise Hardy, and Neil Young. There is also both a Kanye West cover (Wolves - !!!) and a Mint Chicks one (Life Will Get Better Someday), which is very cool.
Says Bic: “I wanted to see if I could not just be a singer-songwriter, but someone who could also interpret songs. In the process, I found there are so many reasons why a cover version wouldn't work, perhaps because the lyrics were not something I could relate to first hand, because technically I wasn't ready or because the original was too iconic. But the songs that all made it on the record specifically say something about where I'm at in my life, better than if I'd written it myself.”
Katie: Bic Runga is so totally timeless and classic – like she hasn’t even aged – that it’s kind of jarring to hear her do something so contemporary. Especially this. It kind of makes me sad that there are only two originals on the album.
But Close Your Eyes is awesome. It’s catchy, but kind of weird and uncanny and way better than the Norah Jones path this could have taken. Bic is known for her ballads, but this is very edgy and removed. She’s got such a perfect, clean voice that it’s cool to see what else she can do. I think she has what is takes to go beyond the Cat Power covers cliché, so fingers crossed.
I wanna hear that Wolves cover so bad.
Hussein: “I impregnate your mind / let’s have a baby without fuckin’” – a classic Bic Runga line.
Here’s a fun fact: A few years back she reportedly collaborated on a song with System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, which never ended up coming out.
Katie: Why didn’t that happen, I wonder.
Talking about God is always such a bad move, but that’s the bit I like the most here. It’s almost creepy. This whole song is just so Silicon. And I hope that doesn’t sound condescending (men always get the credit when they get involved in these things), but I think it’s such a great sound for her and way better than if she’d just done a straightforward pop song. I’m totally in on couples collaborating (clearly) and this feels very natural and cool.
I have a fun fact, too: one time I saw Kody and Bic and their baby in the Takapuna Mall and the same day I saw Suzanne Paul also in the Takapuna Mall. What a day.
Hussein: To me, the song is way less immediately gratifying than anything she’s ever done before, or at least any single she’s released before. It’s also a lot less polished and almost demo-like in its nature, which I feel is probably intentional in some way. The closest thing I can compare it to is Kody & Bic’s Darkness All Around Us, which eventually got reworked and included on that last record. The initial version of it sat on the same level as this, though. And in much the same way, Nielson’s influence is front and centre, yet Runga still sweetens the edges of it. (That bassline is a nod to Dear Prudence.) There’s a pop song buried in there somewhere, but it’s kind of nice to just hear her do her own thing instead.
I think that’s why something feels off about her being inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame so soon. It’s like she barely scratched the surface of what she’s able to do with her music.
Katie: It would be so easy for her to bask in being the ultimate ‘90s girl, but she’s clearly got so much more in her, and is maybe still yet to peak. Putting out a covers album at this point in her career is an interesting move: she seems like she still has so many directions to go in. But it's also a sign of confidence, and interpreting an artist like Kanye is a great, bold move that almost no other New Zealand performer could pull off. I’m into it.