In a world full of copycats, sad repetitions, and bogus choices, we feel this visceral craving for some non-manufactured originality. A rare thing these days. Actually, this is what attracted us to LP in the first place. And when LP sings “The Widow” by The Mars Volta, we feel that uniqueness even more. An unobvious choice for a song to cover, that’s the first thing. Arranged for the ukulele, that’s the second. Well, she nailed keeping the song’s vibe while designing her rendition, so we always take great pleasure in listening to her version… And, as you may already know the famous recording of LP singing “The Widow” solo on the ukulele, we have another version for you from LP’s visit to the Mexican Radio Ibero 90.9 in 2012.
Still frame from the video of LP performing “The Widow” in Radio Ibero
It’s peculiar, the way we came across The Mars Volta. It was some ten years ago, on some old pen drive of unknown origin, when we found an mp3 off The Mars Volta’s second album, Frances the Mute (2005). The music got our attention right away. Quite likely, the way the band loosely speaks with the early work of Pink Floyd did the trick. (Oh, and check out the artwork for their album covers!)
We like the stories about songs which were too ambitious to be even included on the albums, or those that had to undergo quite severe cuts to become more radio-friendly. The very phenomenon marks out this tight line of demarcation between the freedom of the art and market goals, because, yes, an art is supposed to be unfettered, but it also has to, erm, sell. But anyway, it’s good for an artist to have this kind of story to their credit. For The Mars Volta, this story was about their 2005 hit song, “The Widow.” The album version of the song didn’t make it to the radios in its original form. It got shortened and cut right before its second half, believing that the lack of a tonal center would scare away the vast majority of the radio audience. And this is the song that LP decided to cover.
Everybody says it, but starting from her Bardot and Sayers times, through the Forever For Now era, up to the present time, LP has always been a cover whisperer. Whatever genre she touches, be it dance music, rock standards or mainstream pop, she turns it into her own story. Especially when she arranges them for the ukulele. And indeed, whenever she uses it, it’s personal, and especially while writing. “When I write songs on the ukulele, they’re for myself,” she said to Eagle3. Then, for most of the covers she’s recorded, she plays the ukulele, too, and these versions are not copies at all; they are somehow both close to the originals as well as being entirely hers, unique and appealing. And so, maybe the ukulele is the answer.
LP chooses the songs she covers very carefully. There are only several official recordings of such, and as for their original versions, they are mostly by male singers – Roy Orbison, The Beatles, Paul Simon, The Mars Volta, Leadbelly… And indeed, as she said in an interview for Ottawa Citizen in 2012:
I like to pick guy songs. I make it higher and more in my range, but do I like to sing covers very much true to the song because I feel like the song is made that way for a reason. I love really clever, interesting versions, but they have to be really good. I like songs that wail.
There are two videos of LP singing “The Widow” that we know of. One she recorded for her Ukulele Cover Series released while she was signed to Warner Bros. It’s a truly haunting rendition, recorded in 2012 in a batcave in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. The video was directed, recorded and edited by Claire Marie Vogel, and it’s a very special thing. The song itself is dark already, but choosing such a setup for the performance and stripping the song of its rock arrangement made it more disturbing and dire. In an interview for Fuse.TV, recorded during the Lollapalooza festival in 2012, LP talked about playing covers and mentioned this version of “The Widow”:
I’ve been doing the series. I was actually gonna do “Creep” on a ukulele, but I felt like it needed… It’s so instrumental and I feel, as a singer, I kinda surf the wave of that song musically and I felt like the ukulele was just a little too thin for it. It’s nice sometimes, I did one that’s coming out, it’s a Mars Volta tune, and of course, you could say the same thing about that, but I felt like that lent itself a little bit better. There are certain songs that I just didn’t feel like I was singing as well with the ukulele.
But there is one more version of “The Widow” as performed by LP, and it engages us more than the official cover. LP played the song for Radio ibero 90.9 during her visit to Mexico City in October of 2012. Let us start by saying that she concludes her performance by saying “All right, I got through it. Yasss!” which maybe gives a little insight into the level of difficulty of the arrangement. The performance is arranged for the ukulele and the guitar, but it is still the ukulele in the foreground here. LP’s sharp, distinctive tone of voice, her signature (and our favorite) lower register, beautifully mingles with the instruments throughout the verses. Oh, and these prolonged consonants at the end of some lines there… Little things, but this is what makes the performance so emotional. Overall, we love the cover and the performance is great, too. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s something to check out, definitely.