Angel Olsen and Maxim Ludwig come together to cover a Lou Reed classic

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Angel Olsen and Maxim Ludwig – ‘I Can’t Stand It’

Throughout the history of popular music, the greatest cover songs are the ones that entirely reimagine the original track. Songs like Devo’s ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ and The Specials’ ‘A Message To You, Rudy’ stand on their own two feet; they are not merely cover songs, they are excellent compositions in their own right. When the incredible talents that are Angel Olsen and Maxim Ludwig teamed up to cover Lou Reed’s ‘I Can’t Stand It’, there was certainly an opportunity for excellence. However, they seem to have settled for mediocrity. 

Covering one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century is certainly not an enviable task, especially when that artist is as unique and uncompromising as Lou Reed.

After all, a not-insignificant part of Reed’s appeal came not from his lyrics or arrangements but from his attitude; you got a sense Reed really meant every word he said, which is not an easy thing to replicate years later. Olsen and Ludwig played it somewhat safe in that regard, covering ‘I Can’t Stand It’, from the songwriter’s misstep of a debut solo album.

Reed’s eponymous debut is a pretty mixed bag, paling in comparison to the seminal release of Transformer shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, ‘I Can’t Stand It’ was one of the better tracks from the album, heavily imbued with an atmosphere of the Velvet Underground. Part of its original appeal was its rough-and-ready quality, but, unfortunately, the Olsen and Ludwig version loses that feeling. 

Nobody would suggest that the pair are not incredibly talented. Olsen in particular is among the finest vocalists currently in operation, but this cover rarely gives an opportunity for her to really shine. Ludwig takes on the role of Reed within the song while Olsen is largely left in the background, picking up the backing vocals originally performed by Helene Francois and Kay Garner; it is not good casting. 

The verses that Olsen takes the lead on are by far the most enjoyable aspects of the song, but neither of the artists particularly suit the atmosphere of the track. It would make more sense, therefore, to completely reimagine the song, but the pair stick annoyingly close to the original in atmosphere and arrangement. It is fine as a tribute, but it does not come close to standing up to the original.

Olsen and Ludwig’s cover of the Reed track is due to make up part of the upcoming Lou Reed covers album The Power of the Heart: A Tribute to Lou Reed, featuring the likes of Keith Richards, Rufus Wainwright and Joan Jett, among others. 

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