New Audio: Moa Holmsten’s Haunting and Affecting Cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest”

Perhaps best known for her stint as the frontwoman of metal band Meldrum, singer/songwriter Moa Holmsten has spent the last couple of years focusing on a solo recording career, releasing two avant-garde albums of original material, Do You Want Me, Death? and All Blade, No Handle. In 2013, Holmsten along with her collaborator Tony Naima went into the studio and recorded a complete reworking of Bruce Springsteen‘s “Badlands.” The duo had such a great time working on that cover that they immediately decided that they should work on another. And that was followed by another and another — until they had finished 14 songs spanning across the Springsteen’s incredibly lengthy career, from the obscure, deep cuts to the most well known with each cover done in a completely fresh, original way.  The end result wound up becoming Holmsten’s Springsteen tribute album, Bruised Arms and Broken Rhythms, an effort which, will see a Stateside release on November 20.

Interestingly, as Holmsten explains in press notes, “We have always respected Springsteen… but I believe the fact that we are not intense and longtime followers of his work has been essential from the beginning. We could discover new songs and re-discover older ones, and work on them with a unique perspective. We could be brave and courageous, while not letting old emotions or presumed expectations stand in our way.” Holmsten continues by saying, “I have compared this whole recording experience to falling in love with someone. Getting to know someone for the first time. The first fumbling steps. A person with a history and a past. The last thing you want is to be told from other people what kind of person he or she is. You want to find out for yourself. To see the side of this person that nobody else has seen. This is why I have consistently refused to read articles, books and interviews with Springsteen. I wanted to find out for myself. My own version of an American icon. Not the typical portrayal of him. And that, in a way, can’t be questioned. This is how his songs spoke to me. Our relationship slowly progressed, and I have now totally fallen in love with him. I hope that it’s mutual…”

Bruised Arms and Broken Rhythms‘ first single turns the twangy and rousingly anthemic ballad “Tougher Than the Rest” into a sparse, atmospheric electro pop-leaning song while retaining the pride, resoluteness, vulnerability and longing of the original; however, Holmsten’s cover possesses a subtle yet ancient ache that makes the song feel like a urgent and plaintive plea to a potential lover. And as a result, Holmgren’s cover feels — to me, at least — more deeply affecting and sincere than the original.