If You’re Going To Do An Acoustic Version Of A Song, Learn What “Acoustic Version” Means

Alright, listen up.  Apparently there’s some mass confusion about acoustic versions among artists, why you do them, and, more importantly, why you’re doing them badly.  So badly, in

10 years ago


Alright, listen up.  Apparently there’s some mass confusion about acoustic versions among artists, why you do them, and, more importantly, why you’re doing them badly.  So badly, in fact, that you’re straight up ruining your own song, both in acoustic and in demeaning the original version by proxy.  You need to stop, because you’re an idiot.

Acoustic guitar is scoffed at within the metal community for being too “soft,” often “endangering” metal bands who take a softer approach in sound when their acoustic edge rises to the forefront.  Example: Opeth with Damnation were lambasted for demonstrating a more depressive sound rather than sharpening their riffs after Deliverance.  Doomsayers were quick to say, “OMG OPETH ARE DONE FOR, THEY AREN’T METAL ANYMORE.” Whatever you have to say about Watershed and Heritage, we can assure you that Opeth are still very metal, but just don’t have growls anymore.  Sorry about your Rectal Ragnarok.

Still, acoustic guitars are some sort of “blight” to many, unless you’re good enough to be 3 to masterfully integrate both electric and acoustic into some monumental progressive opus, you’re likely going to relegate yourself to one or the other.  If you’re even less brave than that, you’re going to take songs you wrote for electric guitars and then so cunningly transpose them to your acoustic guitar.  Edgy.

Here’s an acoustic version of Megadeth‘s “Symphony of Destruction” recorded last year sometime at VEVO‘s New York office.  Quick spoiler: It sucks.  It’s the suckiest piece of suck that ever sucked.  You’re an idiot if you like this.  The original version is a monumental metal anthem of the early 90s, having elevated Megadeth into a cultural force after the deeply revered Rust in Peace.

Here’s an acoustic version of “She-Wolf,” a song released a few years later on Cryptic Writings in 1997, an album with a similar vibe to its 1992 counterpart, except a bit faster-paced, a tad more aggressive, but rife with thrash stylings built for mainstream audiences.

These “acoustic” version are garbage.  They are literal garbage for your ears.  They are the same song, the same progressions, the exact same notes played on acoustic guitars versus their electric counterparts.  And look at Dave Ellefson, wearing that ugly trollface shirt.  He knows this sucks.  That’s why he’s wearing it.

See, the problem here is that acoustic guitars during live performances in place of electric guitars are meant to create a more intimate atmosphere.  They’re special in that they’re not laden with distortion or muddled sound effects, evoking a pure, unaltered emotional response within listeners while those steel or nylon strings reverberate through the air in a pristine tone.

Yet, the point here is that Dave Mustaine and crew have completely missed the mark, doing nothing to “spice up” the original tracks, instead offering this haphazardly-performed nonsense for a handful of individuals, accompanied by Mustaine’s muddled vocals instead of rising above and including, you know, actual singing.

The problem is that Mustaine actually knows a thing about acoustic performances, having invited Lacuna Coil‘s Cristina Scabbia for a special performance of “A Tout Le Monde.”  Despite having the voice of a chorus of cacophonous rats, Mustaine can actually infuse his voice with emotion sometimes, and Scabbia adding a lovely layer of lady vocals to offset the rodent’s nest creates an overall nice sound.  Let’s ignore that awful transposed solo, but overall this version does a fine job at elevating the original track on two fronts—instrumentally and vocally.

Coheed and Cambria are guilty of this as well.  The tremendous “Welcome Home” from Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, a song that rocketed the band into the mainstream, in part thanks to Harmonix‘s Rock Band series of games, has had several acoustic performances by the band themselves.

And they all suck.  All of them.  They don’t deviate from the original version in any way, so what’s the point of playing an acoustic version?

TesseracT come close in adding a different dynamic to their already slow 2011 hit “April” from One, changing up the thick guitar tones to pleasant acoustics with the sinister vibes.  Daniel Tompkins sings in a more subdued manner, not quite reaching the peaks and valleys present on the album version, but still managing to differentiate enough to bring home that this performance is meant to be different in some manner.  Not too different, but just enough to say, “Hey, this isn’t the exact same thing you’ve heard before.”

See, the important thing to do with an acoustic version is to differentiate it in an emotional capacity from the original.  That’s the whole point of doing the acoustic version.  You’re meant to play the same song on a different instrument, but give it a different emotional vehicle.  It’s for this same reason that Devin Townsend has two different versions of “Kingdom.”

Jon Schaffer is a man who built an entire career on two stolen chord progressions and one he built himself.  Iced Earth, having been active for nearly thirty years, has done very little to advance power/thrash as a genre, recycling riffs, lyrical themes, and sometimes musical motifs as a whole.  However, Schaffer did one thing right in offering two versions of “When The Eagle Cries” from 2004’s The Glorious Burden.  The original version was certainly a power ballad, for all intents and purposes, but it speaks volumes of the tonal shift of the song that the unplugged version became the one used for the official music video in memory of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.  Iced Earth, for all their repeated missteps in repetition, did one thing right when it comes to acoustically adapting their own material.

The same could be said of Alice in Chains, especially during their highly lauded MTV Unplugged performance.

Sometimes, the best way to adapt something to the acoustic guitar is to completely change it.  It’s hard to imagine that artists don’t get tunnel vision when they play their own material, so it’s hard to see an acoustic version of something they wrote not being the equivalent of a cover of something you did.  That’s what you’re doing anyway—covering your own material.

Take this interesting cover of Gojira‘s “L’Enfant Sauvage” done by Choco on YouTube.  It’s not the most musically profound piece of music ever produced, nor could one particularly call it great, but it does make an attempt at putting a different spin on Gojira’s original, which is infinitely heavier and angrier, in contrast with Choco’s obviously sadder interpretation of the track.

So why all the words?

It simply boils down to this:  Don’t be idiots about acoustic versions of your songs.  Don’t be like Megadeth or Coheed with their blasé contributions.  If you’re going to bestow an acoustic/unplugged version of your songs unto the world, make them different and interesting enough to merit their existence.  These versions are meant to be gifts, so they should sparkle like a unique piece of jewelry.  We’re tired of fruitcake.


Kyle Gaddo

Published 10 years ago