The National have released their rendition of INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart,” which was created as part of Songs for Australia — a compilation album of covers by Australian acts that will benefit the fire-stricken country’s rehabilitation efforts. Helmed by Australian folk-pop singer Julia Stone, the compilation is set for a digital and physical release on March 12th via BMG.
The Ohio indie band’s version replaces INXS’ signature staccato playing of string synths with drum programming, though the band tries to remain faithful to the original track. The satisfying guitar part comes right after the first chorus, and while the group injects horns into the love song, guitars take a zealous front-and-center position to replace Kirk Pengilly’s original sax solo.
The piano parts sound more delicate, giving the cover a fittingly more mournful tone that’s less about showmanship and flair than the original. (That said, the National is a band that has made a career off of the forlorn, and by their standards, the recording is actually more uplifting than some of their most beloved songs.)
The album, which was finalized in about two months, started out as “a feeling of sadness and helplessness,” Julia Stone tells Rolling Stone. She was working with the National collaborator, performer, and producer Thomas Bartlett (Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent) in London when the project came together.
As the fires raged, Julia Stone played her favorite track — Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” — and inspiration struck. Bartlett suggested they record it the next day in search of a cathartic experience. Stone’s cover of “Beds Are Burning,” which was written 33 years ago about indigenous land rights, is included in the set. She started exploring the information relating to the inattention to indigenous wisdom on land management in Australia. “Had that information not been ignored, this crisis may have been less damaging,” she says.
Stone ended up working on the song with artists from the indigenous Australian Karrabing community; Natasha Bigfoot Lewis, Quinton Shields, and Deborah Sing added lyrics and vocals. “I get goosebumps when I hear Natasha say, ‘What you gonna do when the whole world’s fried?'” She soon realized the project was more than a song. “I know a heap of great artists, and I just started writing the emails, making the calls, sending text messages,” she explains. “‘Hey, I have this idea. Things are bad in Australia. Here are some people doing really good stuff. Want to help?’… That was on January 8th.”
The National was one of a handful of international acts that jumped at the idea of contributing. Frontman Matt Berninger was the one to suggest the INXS choice, and Stone was immediately sold. “Matt came straight back to me after I presented the idea for the record,” Stone says. “He was so thrilled to have an opportunity to help.”
“I’m so grateful to have a good excuse to cover that song,” Berninger tells Rolling Stone. “One of my favorites ever. Hope it helps a little bit.”
Proceeds from the record’s sales and streams will go to numerous organizations, including SEED, Firesticks Alliance, Landcare, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, Wild Ark, and NSW Rural Fire Service. All proceeds given to Wild Ark goes to what’s needed on the ground. As for Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, “they are trying to do what the government should be doing,” Stone says. “They have created a bushfire summit to make plans for a future where we can do our best to avoid the repeat of such extreme damage and devastation.”
Firesticks Alliance is an inspired indigenous group that aims to educate landowners and Australia about indigenous cultural burning practices. “[These are] practices that, for 60,000 years, had kept the Australian wilderness renewing and under control,” Stone says. Some of indigenous organization Seed Mob’s current activities involve educating Northern Territory communities on the dangers of fracking — the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks and boreholes. “The Australian government has just passed a bill to allow fracking for natural gas throughout the Northern Territory,” the singer says. “Meanwhile, Landcare Australia is teaching children how to actively make changes to better Australia, and integrating indigenous wisdom into school programs.
“In NSW alone, which is where I grew up, 5.3 million hectares have been destroyed,” she says. “Thousands of people are without homes. We have lost over a billion animals across Australia. And there are delicate species that we will have to work hard to stop from becoming extinct. We will be rebuilding for decades after this crisis … but the worst part is that, because of climate change, Australia is becoming more and more susceptible to this happening over and over again. We have ignored indigenous wisdom around land-management practices because of our history as a country with the traditional owners of the land.”
Songs for Australia is available for pre-order now.
Songs for Australia Tracklisting
1. The National, “Never Tear Us Apart” (INXS)
2. Petit Biscuit, “Chateau” (Angus & Julia Stone)
3. Dermot Kennedy, “Resolution” (Matt Corby)
4. Dope Lemon, “Streets of Your Town” (The Go-Betweens)
5. Kurt Vile, “Stranger Than Kindness” (Nick Cave)
6. Joan As Police Woman, “Hearts a Mess” (Gotye)
7. Damien Rice, “Chandelier” (SIA)
8. Martha Wainwright, “The Ship Song” (Nick Cave)
9. Paul Kelly, “Native Born” (Archie Roach)
10. Dan Sultan, “Into My Arms” (Nick Cave)
11. Pomme, “Big Jet Plane” (Angus & Julia Stone)
12. Julia Stone, “Beds Are Burning” (Midnight Oil)
13. Sam Amidon, “Let Me Down Easy” (Gang of Youths)