[ download ]
The band Platinum Blonde was apparently known as “the Canadian Duran Duran” back in the 1980s. Video evidence shows them to have been a rather frightful blend of new wave in its decline and hair metal on its ascent. They never made much of a splash outside the great white north (though they do seem to have been big in Belgium also, for what it’s worth) but they were stars in their homeland, where they seem to be fondly remembered and respected.
Two people who definitely remember Platinum Blonde are Alice Glass and Ethan Kath, who comprise the ill-tempered Toronto electro-pop duo Crystal Castles. The pair included a cover of Platinum Blonde’s “Not in Love” on their second self-titled album, which was released in 2010. Crystal Castles transformed the song from the original version’s hair metal take on The Police to a shimmering dance-pop track, full of synth tracks that managed to evoke the woozy feeling of a relationship ending – a time when the wounds are still fresh and it’s hard to make sense of what went wrong.
The famously combative Glass handled the vocals on the album version, but a famous voice was recruited for the single version – Robert Smith of The Cure. After 30+ years of chronicling life at its most miserable, Smith’s voice is practically despondency personified. At this point, he could probably read Green Eggs and Ham aloud and make it sound like a visit to death’s waiting room. So he’s a natural to deliver lyrics like “We were lovers / Now we can’t be friends,” and his hangdog vocals fit nicely over Crystal Castle’s lush, pulsating electronics. Glass’ original processed vocals make a well-timed cameo appearance towards the end, evoking the response of the other half of the failed couple and echoing Smith’s sentiments but offering no hope of a different outcome.
Cover versions are sometimes just lazy attempts to grab cheap hits by cynically latching on to people’s memories of the original (hello, cast of Glee!). But sometimes they’re an opportunity for a band to take a song that has personal meaning for themselves and rework it into something totally new for a new audience.
That’s what Crystal Castles have done with “Not in Love.” They’ve taken a minor, somewhat cheesy hit from their childhoods and turned it into an affecting evocation of sadness and loss. Platinum Blonde may not have ever made much of a noise outside of Canada, but they inspired Crystal Castles, who have. That’s something Platinum Blonde can hang their hats (or massively coiffed hairpieces) on that’s even better than being big in Belgium.