Ex-Bangle Susanna Hoffs and alterna-pop hero Matthew Sweet have teamed up to do an album together. It’s not exactly Elvis joining The Beatles, but it’s interesting enough. Sweet has done some interesting alternative pop music and already collaborated with a couple of indie guys in the side project The Thorns. So where did Hoffs and Sweet decide to take this? They made a record they called Under the Covers Vol. 1, covers of songs from the ’60s. What to make of an album like this?
There are a couple of ways you can look at this. They re-named themselves Sid & Susie (you can probably guess who is who) and they put track-by-track liner notes in the CD. On the one hand, the nicknames are endearing and the liner notes reflect the love these two have for the material they have chosen. The artwork has a very retro-’60s vibe. They want this to be fun. On the other, this fussiness can give the impression of two artists trying to justify making the record. Are they taking themselves too seriously?
The first question I asked when I began looking at the song selection: is this really necessary? A lot of us have the originals of these songs in our CD collection. Do we need these versions of these songs? These are songs we know by heart. We have sung them in the shower or in the car. Maybe we even make the mistake of thinking we sound good when we do these songs. Talk about the power of great material — it can withstand the atrocities of being sampled in hip-hop songs and bad karaoke versions done in cars and showers and bars worldwide. Granted, Hoffs and Sweet are a good three leagues ahead of the poor, delusional soul butchering The Mamas and The Papas on Saturday night down at Ed’s Tavern on the corner of 4th and Lincoln. Still, the originals provided a pretty good backing track to the songs we love to sing.
When you take competent artists and pair them with great material which they faithfully re-create, you have the recipe for a good album — not a great one — which is what we have here. The song selections are, in a word, obvious: The Beatles, Dylan, The Beach Boys, Velvet Underground, The Who, etc., and so are the arrangements. No liberties have been taken. No boundaries have been stretched. There are few surprises to be found. I doubt Sweet or Hoffs were ambitious enough to think they would render the originals disposable, but they did not manage to add anything to them either.
Under the Covers is never a bad listen nor is it ever a compelling one. It’s pleasant and well-meaning, but never soars. This album is for the people who think Rod Stewart’s American Songbook series is anything more than the CliffsNotes. If you liked any of these songs before, you will probably like what Sid ‘N’ Susie have done with them here. Despite not being a real fan of Hoffs’ voice, I was pretty impressed with her stab at “Different Drum.” “The Kids Are Alright” is defanged and sounds too mushy. I thought I would like “Monday Monday” more than I do but was surprised to like “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” this much.
It’s not as much fun as it should be, but it beats the hell out of Karaoke.
- I See the Rain (The Marmalade)
- And Your Bird Can Sing (The Beatles)
- It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan)
- Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (Fairport Convention)
- Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
- Alone Again Or (Love)
- Warmth of the Sun (The Beach Boys)
- Different Drum (The Stone Poneys feat. Linda Ronstadt)
- The Kids Are Alright (The Who)
- Sunday Morning (The Velvet Underground)
- Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Neil Young and Crazy Horse)
- Care of Cell #44 (The Zombies)
- Monday Monday (The Mamas and The Papas)
- She May Call You Up Tonight (The Left Banke)
- Run to Me (The Bee Gees)