Clem Snide front man (and, sometimes, only member) Eef Barzelay has taken Steve Perry and Neal Schon’s words and somehow stripped them of their (let’s face it) feebleness, mining them down to the spirit in which they were theoretically intended but which neither Perry himself nor Journey as a band was capable of displaying. This is some kind of mad genius.
I mean, ponder these lyrics—
She loves to move
She loves to groove
She loves the lovin’ things
—and then listen to Barzelay sing them (starting at 0:28). He has removed irony as a stance here; he means these words, and his half-bold, half-shy delivery makes them work, which is all the more remarkable when you note that “lovin’ things” was there to rhyme with the word “everything” from the previous line. With just a ukulele, his voice, and some exquisitely placed piano fills, Barzelay finds the vulnerable heart of an almost willfully silly song. He removes Journey’s instrumental hook—that barreling seven-note riff that screams “Look out! Chorus approaching!”—and adds, crucially, a repeat round of the chorus’s lone lyric. You’ll hear this first at 1:15: how he takes the melody up to the top end of the chord, at once relieving it of its claustrophobia (in the original it’s basically a two-note melody) and adding poignancy via a descending melody that fades each time it descends; he barely bothers to enunciate the “it” at the end of each phrase. As a belted, arena-rock assertion, “Anyway you want it, that’s the way you need it” is all but devoid of sense; as a tentative disclosure, the words have an elusive, confessional air.
But I can’t help thinking that Barzaley has opened a can of worms here. I mean, if he can sing these words and make them sound good and right and true, then it might well be that all sorts of awkwardly written songs out there are actually pretty darned good. They’re just waiting for the right interpreter. Barzaley, at least, is doing his part—this cover of “Anyway You Want It” is from an EP called Clem Snide’s Journey, which transforms six of Journey’s most familiar songs. The EP was inspired by his covering “Faithfully” for the Onion’s A.V. Club (see video below), and came into being via a Kickstarter campaign. The EP was self-released this summer, and is available digitally via the band’s Bandcamp page for six dollars.