Friday, 10 April 2020

RYAN PLAYGROUND — BETTER OFF ALONE

⌾ LISTEN TO RYAN PLAYGROUND, BETTER OFF ALONE ⌾



'Better Off Alone' by Alice Deejay lends itself to being covered in some way, whether it's Mark Redito giving it a tropical rework or if it's a nightcore flip by Crapface (real artist name). It's impossibly iconic and instantly recognisable, both in its of-a-certain era (1998) aesthetics and in its simple, titular vocal refrain and melody: "Do you think you're better off alone?"

The question is asked in such a haunting, slow and repetitive way that it's almost impossible not to be caught up in a daydreaming moment, feeling the melancholy of the vocal. The fact that it's in the second person immediately puts the listener at the receiving end of the interrogation: You, no matter where you read it, is always you (yes, you). It's relative, and relatable.

The choice of how the question is being asked may have been one of picking what fit best, of course, but the interesting thing is that it's not simply "Are you better off alone?" That's a simpler question. Prefacing the question with "Do you think—" automatically elicits a shift to pondering in the one being asked. It forces consideration.

Not only that, but in using the colloquialism "better off", the comparative "better" begs a thing, a situation, which may have been worse — by however many degrees — than being "alone", i.e. together, but perhaps not ideally together. In the unspoken unknown that lingers in the moments before the iconic refrain calls out, there is the feeling of abandonment, a pair divided, and the repeating enquiry is necessarily stacked with emotion.

When we get to the "Talk to me... Oh, talk to me" it becomes clear that we're hearing something like one side of a phone conversation. And it also becomes clear that, in the pleading imperatives and the wordless, tuneful "oo-ooo-oo" that punctuates them, the prior question has gone unanswered, heartbreakingly so.

Needless to say, what was a hit at the time, and which could easily be seen as a simple dancefloor song by a europop group in what is very much a bygone era, has in fact stewed and simmered these past 22 years, fusing its feeling into the memories of all that have heard it. And that's why it's a great song to cover, whatever way you look at it.

Genevieve Ryan Martel aka RYAN Playground brings a decidedly different feel to the song, in her hands it becomes an icy, emo-tinged cover, guitar in glittering arpeggios that summon Brand New at their most downcast sparkling atop a frosty whisper of ambient synth; deep below, a far-off rumble provides not only the bass, but a sense of vague disaster. The vocals, crisp and wonderfully falling into the snowy soundscape, eventually fade, as does the track as a whole, thus ending a version of the original was woven with a similar sense of loss and heartache.


  • 🔔 Montreal artist RYAN Playground's version of 'Better Off Alone' can be streamed and downloaded on her Bandcamp, along with another Alice Deejay cover, 'I Can See (See It In Your Eyes)'. Both of them make up a two-track release For The Ones Who Need Guitars Anyway; in light of her use of guitars in the covers, it's a pun on the original album that both songs appeared on, Who Needs Guitars Anyway? (2000).


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