‘Smalltown Boy’ is one of those precious tunes so embedded in pop culture, and queer culture, that fool is the band who tries to dig it out. Yet Coventry’s Mara Falls have done it, and not just that, they’ve lovingly and keenly re-spun it. The results are stunning.
It’s an inspired choice. Tracing the sound of Mara Falls takes you through grunge and The Strokes Is This It rather than the pristine sounds of 80s synthpop; their only claims to that particular decade come via the latter day inkiness of Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration.
So it’s only more suprising that they absolutely nail the cover. Uprooting the gloomy electronics of the original and re-planting it in the framework of dirty alt-rock is risky. Thankfully, they’ve retained that gorgeous hook; it remains a vivid banner for alienation.
Bronski Beat wrote the song about homophobia. It was semi-autobiographical. But since this was 1984, that subtext was only made clear by the ground-breaking video.
Mara Falls treat it as a more general paean to homesickness – after all the image of the open road has proved an irresistible staple of the rock canon. However the charged emotion at the centre, and the central image of an uncertain journey into an uncertain future, remains coiled and potent at the core of it.
Their adaptation is a deft blend of their own style of garage rock with faithful touches of throbbing electronica, and some hauntingly gorgeous vocal harmonies. This right here is how you do a cover, one which elevates the subject and the artist. This is absolute perfection.
Follow Mara Falls here.