Ólöf Arnalds – With Tomorrow / I’m On Fire

There is the option when choosing a song to cover, to choose a song that’s written in the opposite gender. This can be extremely effective, or it can be used by scoundrels to give the song an instant novelty to hide the dearth of originality in the cover.* After a few listens to ‘With Tomorrow / I’m On Fire’, Ólöf Arnalds can be filed into the former. The segue from her own ‘With Tomorrow’ into Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ feels like it has been done with some thought and consideration, and not just because she found it happened to be in the same key.

It took me a few listens, as I say. At first Springsteen’s song imposes itself over Arnalds’ composition on the strength of familiarity. There is also a lean towards passivity in the lyrics of ‘With Tomorrow’ (“And with tomorrow / I will follow”) and contrasted with the domineering ‘I’m On Fire’ lyrics this sense is underwritten. However, on the third or fourth listen the juxtaposition of songs – and the fact that Arnalds’ voice is the link between them – pushes the listener to make comparisons in the lyrics. This is when Arnalds’ song (“It was more like a dream than reality”) begins to mediate the idea the listener might have formed of the first-person narrator of Springsteen’s song, calling into question what’s been assumed before.^ The instrumentation is sparse, but just guitar and voice is a necessity because any other instruments would interrupt the interplay between original and cover that Arnalds begins to draw out.

* The Czars’ cover of ‘Where the Boys Are’, where John Grant seems to summon up Connie Francis in a duet, is an example of the effectiveness of this; for the latter I name no scoundrels, but leave it to you. And I don’t think it’s paradoxical to say a cover can be original.

^ I can’t explain it properly at the moment, but I feel what Arnalds manages to do with her lyrics here is what the synth attempts to create in the original song.

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