Masked singer Orville Peck’s distinctive aesthetic plays around with masculinity, queer desire, and cowboy ruggedness, which he delivers in a romantic, trembling croon. Likewise, his productions such as “Dead of Night” tend toward the narcotic and spacious, like a nighttime drive in a David Lynch film. His newly released cover of Bronski Beat’s 1984 synth-pop hit “Smalltown Boy,” however, feels positively suffocating by comparison.
Rightfully recognized as a classic gay anthem, “Smalltown Boy” perfectly articulates that claustrophobia of a boy who flees the place where he grew up because “the love that you need will never be found at home.” That’s a sentiment that can be applied just as easily to the vast, empty prairies inhabited by Peck’s lonely characters, only they never seem to find a place to sit still for long.
Peck and his band maintain the danceable tempo of the original recording, but present it as a taut, post-punk groove with spiky bass guitar and desert-dry drum sounds. Rather than imitate Jimmy Somerville’s airy falsetto, Peck mostly sticks to his lower register, only once sliding up into a surprisingly high wail when the beat kicks in. By the end of the tune, Peck has grafted his own signature style onto the song, changing the urgently repeated phrase “Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry” to “Cry, boy/Cowboy cry.”
The “Smalltown Boy” cover was a one-off performance for Peck’s Spotify Singles, but he’ll release his new EP Show Pony on August 14th. Shania Twain makes an appearance on the song “Legends Never Die” and, in keeping with his appreciation for queer history, Peck also turns in a cover of Bobbie Gentry’s camp classic “Fancy,” later a hit for Reba McEntire.