Songwriter(s): Anne Preven, Scott Cutler, Phil Thornalley
Original Release Date: May 9, 1995
Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” is a staple 90s pop song that dominated charts worldwide when it was released in 1997. Besides being a fun and classic song in general, the fact it is actually a cover makes “Torn” the perfect opener for this column! The song was originally written and released by the American alternative band Ednaswap in 1995 on the band’s self titled album with East West Records. Now we have yet another version of the apparently timeless track, this time by Australian rockers Hands Like Houses for the compilation album Punk Goes 90s Volume 2.
“Torn” surprises me in each of its covers because of its resilience. The lyrics and melody are a strong enough foundation to hold up through multiple covers in multiple genres. Where deeply personal stories might make songs harder to sing, “Torn” focuses on describing a specific feeling and allows a singer to insert his or her voice easily into the emotion of the song. Its flexibility allows new artists to add their own flavor to a timeless piece.
Ednaswap’s original song is definitely a 90s alt-rock gem. Vocalist Anne Preven sings somewhere between gentle and scream-y over the grunge guitar in a way that reminds me of Alanis Morisette at times. Preven belts a gritty chorus and adds a lot of weight to her lyrics, which describe breaking down and losing faith in the world.
That heavy feeling isn’t exactly present in Imbruglia’s version. Rather, the ‘97 pop ballad is a soft, airy and lighthearted tune that I remember listening to on the cheesy love song station with my mom as a kid. It seems like Imbruglia traded the soul of the song for the instant fame of pop radio. Of course, her version isn’t bad by any means. It succeeded for a reason! Imbruglia put a fun spin on the song and made it easily accessible for the world to enjoy. She also opened the door for a lot more covers just by making the previously unknown song available to listeners through pop music and radio attention.
Hands Like Houses are probably not the first to give the pop song a modern rock makeover, but the band quenches a craving I didn’t know I had. Like sandpaper, they roughen up the song with Trenton Woodley’s coarser vocals, loud and very upfront drums, a deep bass riff and, of course, electric guitars. Though their version starts slow and steady, it gains momentum as well as instrumental layers as it progresses. The keys add a dash of flair, reminiscent of the pop hit the band covers, but all in all, the band injects a straight dose of strength without diluting its catchy and fun nature.
Imbruglia took “Torn” to a new level of gushy pop and gave the song its fame, but Hands Like Houses effectively combine the rock element of the song’s birth as well as the pop style that gave it notoriety. Hands Like Houses have created a truly satisfying cover that is worthy of some serious air guitar time, and will definitely get way more plays on my iPod.