A new Naked Eyes album, eh? As a casual fan of the 1980s synth pop duo, I thought this would be a fun CD to take for a spin. This, I believe, is the frame of mind in which most people will be approaching this first new Naked Eyes album in over 20 years. I also believe that you’ll be a bit disappointed with what you hear. First of all, there are no synths on this record. Now, when breaking down the components of a synth pop duo, one very key ingredient is the presence of a synthesizer. Fumbling with the Covers, however, was recorded solely by Naked Eyes singer Pete Byrne and is a spare and mellow album of vocals and acoustic guitar. There happens to be a very good reason for this: the band’s synth player, Rob Fisher, died in 1999 from complications following emergency stomach surgery. This is sad, of course. But is this record a fitting tribute to that old partnership? Regardless of Byrne’s intentions, the CD feels like an insincere stab at cashing in on past glory. Clearly, this is a Peter Byrne solo work and not really a Naked Eyes album at all. The cover prominently features Byrne’s self-satisfied mug devilishly smiling out at us, with a sexy brunette and a well-lacquered six-string behind him on an unmade bed; upon which, we’re to assume, he was recently engaged in some naughty “fumbling” (which is a really weird euphemism for having sex).
Admittedly, the biggest problems with this album have to do with packaging. If this disc had been released under Pete Byrne’s name, we would have a whole new set of expectations going into it. Or maybe we’d have no expectations at all. Were that the case, this disc would be nothing more or less than a nice set of acoustic cover tunes. Byrne’s take on the Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry” is sweetly done, and he handles Elvis Costello’s excellent “Man Out of Time” quite well. The three Naked Eyes covers are enjoyable enough, too. (Yes, “Always Something There to Remind Me” is a Burt Bacharach tune, but we’re to understand that Byrne is offering his take on the Naked Eyes’ version. It’s a cover of a cover; a double-cover; run for cover!) The other tracks are pleasant, but there’s really nothing on Fumbling with the Covers that’s good enough to warrant that smirk on Byrne’s face. A humble and honest re-packaging of these same songs under his name would serve the material well. Granted, such a CD might not sell as well to ‘80s nostalgia buffs, but its listeners wouldn’t feel hoodwinked, either.