wears the trousers magazine

matthew sweet & susanna hoffs: under the covers vol. 2 (2009)
August 9, 2009, 11:35 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , , , ,


Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs
Under The Covers Vol. 2 •••
Shout! Factory

Funny things, cover versions. Sometimes approached with trepidation, sometimes with reckless abandon, but most of the time offending someone, somewhere. On the surface of things this may seem odd. The theatre doesn’t usually suffer from this phenomenon, for example; people are rarely in uproar over “exciting new productions” of ‘Death Of A Salesman’ set in a dystopian future on Mars. The performing arts are, after all, acknowledged as being a fluid medium – forever destined to be reinvented, reinterpreted and re-evaluated. So what is it about musicians covering each other’s songs that provokes so much wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among certain music devotees?

The answer, of course, is that music, unlike the theatre (and even film) belongs to the people. People live, work, play, suffer and even die by their own soundtrack: music possesses in abundance a quality which is scarce in the other performing arts – it creates and nurtures memories and opinions, and shapes who we are. It is perhaps for this reason that some artists hold back when it comes to covers (or the fact that they themselves are huge fans of a particular work, of course). And so it seems with the latest covers album from erstwhile Bangles frontwoman Susanna Hoffs in collaboration with alternative rock musician Matthew Sweet, a contemporary of REM, among others. Their previous album together, 2005’s Under The Covers Vol. 1, saw them tackling ’60s classics by the likes of The Beatles, Love and The Velvet Underground, and this latest outing fittingly sees the duo turn their attention to the ’70s.

Playful pedal steel and sweet close harmonies on The Grateful Dead’s ‘Sugar Magnolia’ provide a sunny start to the record – a vibe maintained with the West Coast pop of The Raspberries’ ‘Go All The Way’ – and many of the tracks here nicely exploit the partnership’s easy harmonising. Sweet does his best David Bowie impression on ‘All The Young Dudes’, which contains no shortage of echo, and from the intro sounds as if the pair are momentarily backed by Oasis. It is at this point that the record introduces several genuine popular music heavyweights, including a true rendition of Carly Simon’s classic ‘You’re So Vain’, a song which seems to fit Hoffs’s voice like a glove. Indeed, her vocals throughout the album prove largely undiminished from her Bangles days, even giving way to a seldom heard Suzi Quatro-like hoarseness at times.

Nicely under-produced drums and more close harmonies characterise ‘Hello It’s Me’, the first of two Todd Rundgren covers (an honour bestowed on Neil Young in Vol. 1), and the pedal steel also returns for the country-tinged ‘Willin’’, perhaps one of Little Feat’s most well-loved numbers. Faithful readings of Big Star’s ‘Back Of A Car’ and Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’ follow, and Sweet snarls and pleads his way through John Lennon’s passionate ‘Gimme Some Truth’, with everyone on the recording sounding fully committed to the song and its sentiments (that Quatro growl from Hoffs surfaces on the fade out too).

As the album closes with a weary ‘Beware of Darkness’, a George Harrison composition, the listener is bound to be left in one of two minds – either relief that Hoffs and Sweet have not tampered too much with classics, or dissatisfaction over missed opportunities. All of the songs here are lovingly treated, but ironically this may be the biggest drawback to the record; what is the point of covering songs so faithfully that you might as well not cover them at all? This oft-posed question aside, it’s hard to be too cynical towards two artists who clearly love these songs, and this collection certainly contains no crimes against music in any case. But you can’t help but wonder if it would to their advantage to be on top of the covers, rather than hiding beneath them.

Matt Bregazzi
UK release date: 10/08/09; www.myspace.com/sidnsusie


1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

[…] The Girl – God Help The Girl [James M Johnstone 3/7] 29 Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – Under The Covers Vol. 2 [Matt Bregazzi 9/8] 30 Shannon Wright – Honeybee Girls [Terry Mulcahy […]

Pingback by Q3: 50 most read reviews « wears the trousers magazine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: