The Boys Next Door, The Screaming Jets, or Julia Jacklin?
Blue Mountains singer Julia Jacklin has made waves with her sparse, gorgeous cover of Shivers by The Boys Next Door, the band who would go on to become the iconic post-punk outfit, The Birthday Party.
Shivers was written by Rowland S Howard when he was just 16 years old. A song he initially saw as humorous, he felt that Nick Cave misunderstood the lyrics once The Boys Next Door released the track.
The song’s infamous opening line, “I've been contemplating suicide / but it really doesn't suit my style” is just the start of a song that mines teenage drama – the end of relationships that feel world-ending to teens in high school.
Shivers hasn’t only been performed by The Boys Next Door and Julia Jacklin, it’s gone on to be interpreted by Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, Courtney Barnett, The Screaming Jets, and actress and musician Marie Hoy.
For the sake of this article, though, we’re only looking at three versions: the original, Julia Jacklin’s, and The Screaming Jets. We ask: Who did it better?
THE BOYS NEXT DOOR
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The original version of Shivers is undeniably powerful and devastatingly sad.
Even if you think you’ve never heard the song, you know the opening lines and recognise Nick Cave’s vulnerable vocal performance. As The Sydney Morning Herald’s Kelsey Munro wrote in January 2010, in tribute to Howard, Shivers “exhibits Howard's enduring gallows humour in its wry treatment of the overwrought protagonist”. Indeed it does.
The Boys Next Door’s Shivers peaked at #19 in Australia. Its sway, singalong chorus and subtle music video make it the perfect song for anyone going through heartbreak.
Opening with choral backing vocals, Julia Jacklin launches into Shivers the way she approaches her own songs: with a wit and tenderness that makes a brutally sad-sounding song feel lighter and comforting.
She keeps her version close to the original, never abandoning the core melody and only inserting falsetto when the line calls for it.
Released yesterday, the idea for the cover arrived when Jacklin was asked to contribute to a compilation celebrating legendary Australian producer Tony Cohen, who recorded the original version of Shivers, and numerous albums by The Birthday Party, The Go-Betweens, Hunters & Collectors, and Nick Cave.
Jacklin said about covering Shivers: “It’s been covered a lot, but it’s a special one for me. It was one of the first songs I ever learnt to play. Many Sydney bars, venues and open mic nights have heard me sing this song.
“Howard wrote it at 16 and I’ve always loved how much the lyrics capture that type of unbridled, dramatic teenage infatuation. The kind that physically hurts but also makes you laugh at yourself.” Like the best Jacklin tracks, her cover of Shivers is pure and utterly heart-wrenching.
THE SCREAMING JETS
A band known for explosive, demanding rock songs, The Screaming Jets turn down the volume and distortion dials and keep Shivers the ballad that it is.
Of course, they still play guitars and drums – they're still a rock band, after all, but vocalist Dave Gleeson is restrained. No yelling, no “YOU KNOW THAT I KNOW BETTER”, instead, he gives Shivers a new life – one for the next generation of people sitting in a pub waiting to belt out an Australian classic.
Rowland S Howard passed away on 30 December 2009. Once Nick Cave found out about his bandmate’s passing, he told the World Entertainment News Network:
“Rowland was Australia's most unique, gifted and uncompromising guitarist. He was also a good friend. He will be missed by many.” But he lives on through music, particularly through the unforgettable Shivers.