BlackBook Premiere: CousteauX Cover Miley Cyrus’ ‘Karen Don’t Be Sad’

When we last heard from those ever so urbane gents in CousteauX in 2018, they were releasing the piercing romantic lament ‘Memory is a Weapon,’ which BlackBook fittingly debuted on Valentine’s Day of that same year. Singer Liam McKahey and pianist/songwriter Davey Ray Moor had just reformed the band the year previous, and added the “X” to their name due to a dispute with The Cousteau Society, which had carried on long after the passing of the celebrity undersea explorer for whom it was named. The band’s self-titled fourth album, their first in more than a decade, was released in September of that year to significant acclaim.

Their followup longplayer, Stray Gods, is due out August 20. But in the lead up, they are releasing the first single ‘Karen Don’t Be Sad,’ which BlackBook also premieres here. It’s actually a cover of a Miley Cyrus track, a surprising 2015 songwriting collab with Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne (the whole band backed her much buzzed about SNL performance that October).

Now musically, Cousteau have always shared a kind of louche suavity with the likes The Divine Comedy and My Life Story. And that’s precisely the aesthetic they’re mining once again here – sort of Burt Bachrach as filtered through Tindersticks. Over melancholy slide guitars and world weary trumpets, McKahey does his best Elvis Costello, his voice rife with a familiar cultivated wistfulness.

And as it turns out, his vocal style is arguably much more suited than that of Miley herself for delivering the poignant words of encouragement, which are written in a style similar to The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude.’

“So, Karen, don’t be sad
They’re just a bunch of fools
And you can make them powerless
Don’t let them make the rules”

“The lyric is a sweet thing to communicate to anybody,” Moor observes. “I saw Miley’s version on Saturday Night Live in 2015, it was different to her Dead Petz album. It sounded like a classic. I figured CousteauX could work up a country-tinged version that replicated the honest sentiment. Liam initially thought I was mad, but came around once it began to form.”

As for the upcoming album, Stray Gods was another great story of creatively overcoming the pandemic quarantine conditions, with McKahey getting stranded in Australia, and the two undertaking an intercontinental collaboration to get it done.

“Lockdown suited us,” the singer observes. “We’ve communicated more than ever despite living in different hemispheres. Working online with international musicians has given us an album bursting with life and color.”

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