Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs: Under the Covers, Volume 2

Sweet and Hoffs tackle the Me Decade, with charming, if lightweight, results

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs

Under the Covers, Volume 2

Label: Shout! Factory
US Release Date: 2009-07-21
UK Release Date: 2009-08-10
Label website
Artist website

In 2006, as you'll no doubt recall, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs charmed the pop-loving world with the winning, if slight, Under the Covers, Volume 1, an album's worth of '60s-era pop/rock cover tunes ("Cinnamon Girl", "The Kids Are Alright", etc.) whose title hinted at a companion volume. It took a few years -- Sweet released the underrated Sunshine Lies in 2008, while Hoffs, uh, cashed checks whenever someone used "Walk Like An Egyptian" in a commercial and worked with George Harrison's son Dhani's band, thenewno2 -- but Volume 2 has finally arrived. It finds the duo moving ahead one decade, though very little else in their repertoire has changed.

Is that such a bad thing, though? Hoffs and Sweet clearly love the songs they're tackling, with the vibe throughout running more towards Fun Karaoke Night than Major Artistic Statement. That notion is reinforced by the slavish recreation of the arrangements of the set's tunes; no deconstructivist breakdown of, say, Tom Petty's "Here Comes My Girl" here. (And that doesn't even address recreation issues such as Steve Howe's appearance on Yes's "I've Seen All Good People".) These two rock lifers know a sturdy, unimpeachable pop gem when they hear it; why would they want to mutate the DNA of Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me", when the proper response is just to sing the damn thing and remind the world how great the song is? (Sweet, as you might imagine, knocks the tune out of the ballpark.)

For every song the duo picks that they were seemingly fated to sing at some point in their careers -- the abovementioned Rundgren cover, Hoffs' smoky coo totally absorbing Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" -- there are a few unexpected choices that elevate this project beyond aping the tracklist of a '70s SuperHits cassette gathering dust somewhere at a gas station checkout counter in Biloxi: obscure(ish) power pop from the Raspberries ("Go All The Way") and Big Star (!) ("Back of a Car"); unabashed decade-specific cheese, on Bread's "Everything I Own"; a nod to glam, though Sweet's attempts to holler his way through Mott the Hoople's "All The Young Dudes" leaves something to be desired; and southern rock (Little Feat's "Willin'", handled by Hoffs and anchored by Greg Leisz's pedal steel, is a highlight). Hey, at the very least, if Hoffs and Sweet spur someone to pick up the second Big Star record or Little Feat's Sailin' Shoes, then this project will have to be considered a success... particularly if that listener pays $46,000 for either record.

Still, as a harmless thought exercise, it's fun to think about the decade's avenues that our intrepid duo didn't explore: no disco, no funk, only a cursory glance at glam (shouldn't Matthew Sweet cover Sweet???) and California singer/songwriter-types (where are Taylor, Browne, the Eagles!), no AOR, no punk! I suppose "Anarchy in the UK" doesn't lend itself well to midtempo harmonizing. Here's hoping that Sweet and Hoffs cover each other on the '80s-centric Volume 3, due in 2012.







Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.