Music

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs: Under the Covers Vol. 2

These are power-pop covers of power-pop songs; straightforward versions that usually lay the guitar-pop sugar on even thicker than the originals did.


Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs

Under the Covers Vol. 2

Label: Shout! Factory
UK Release Date: 2009-07-27
US Release Date: 2009-07-21
Label website
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Covers albums are inherently hit-and-miss affairs. Unless the approach is artistically wild and radically re-interpretive (like Petra Haden's a capella take on The Who Sell Out) or marked by sharp generic contrasts (like the reggae Radiohead covers record, the bluegrass Dark Side of the Moon or Seu Jorge's hipster-friendly Portuguese Bowie tunes), the proceedings tend to resemble the unfortunate outpourings of fans. Even the most accepted cover records are held more as amusing curios than as cherished art, novelties rather than objects of lasting aesthetic worth.

With this in mind, consider Under the Covers Vol. 2, the second collection of covers of '70s AM radio standards from pop veteran Matthew Sweet and Bangles vocalist Susanna Hoffs. Vol. 1 came out in 2006 and featured covers of some of the founding songs of what we now call power pop, '60s tunes by the likes of the Who, Neil Young, the Zombies, the Beach Boys and, of course, the Beatles. Vol. 2 skews a little later in pop history, sticking to the '70s. Besides the decade, there's very little that's changed in Sweet and Hoffs' approach trajectory to the material. These are power-pop covers of power-pop songs; straightforward versions that usually lay the guitar-pop sugar on even thicker than the originals did.

So we have nicely produced arrangements that very nearly replicate the original recordings. We have glossy harmonies, in the midst of which the unique vocal character that both Sweet and Hoffs undeniably possess somehow gets scrubbed away entirely. This effect is particularly egregious on a few occasions, as in the duo's version of Big Star's dynamic jangler "Back of a Car" and the chorus of Tom Petty's "Here Comes My Girl". Its treatment of Fleetwood Mac's "Second Hand News" has the same handicap, as the excessive echo effects drive Sweet's vocal to clumsiness. Its failure is especially disappointing considering both Hoffs' clear vocal debt to Stevie Nicks, as well as Lindsey Buckingham's guest spot, which tears off an overwrought re-do of his closing solo from the initial classic.

Overal, the record is very much a mixed bag. Roots-inflected numbers like the Grateful Dead's "Sugar Magnolia" and Little Feat's "Willin'" amble along behind Hoffs' leadership on the mic, while Sweet has some fun blurting out the hippie anachronisms of Mott the Hoople ("All the Young Dudes") and Derek and the Dominoes ("Bell Bottom Blues"), daring listeners to remove their tongues from their cheeks. And the relentless harmony pronunciations on "Gimme Some Truth" are pretty impressive.

But the performances are uneven: Hoffs' impersonation of Rod Stewart's mild rasp on "Maggie May" is initially captivating and overcomes the flubbed guitar solos, but she sounds bored and unengaged on Bread's "Everything I Own" (which is understandable, seeing as the song itself is boring and unengaging). And while Sweet talks out the verses of "Here Comes My Girl" with dexterity, his album-closing swing at "Beware of Darkness" is appallingly off, saturated with weak tremolo and entombed in persnickety enunciation. It's not a total travesty, but it's frankly poor and made worse by the fact that Dhani Harrison appears on the track, apparently unperturbed by this hollow rendering of one of his father's finest compositions.

Under the Covers Vol. 2 is not a wholly unpleasant listen, but it's not satisfying on a simple aesthetic level and isn't really justifiable on an intellectual one. Generically speaking, power pop is already fundamentally about replicating the brightest stars of '70s AM radio galaxy with smothering exactitude. If "originality" is a bit of a misnomer in the case of most popular music, it's a completely foreign concept in the power-pop domain. Power poppers are not interested in making it sound new; they prefer to painstakingly make it sound old. As skillful as Sweet and Hoffs sometimes are at it, this release proves why it's hard to get behind their cottage industry of covers collections. Every "new" power-pop tune produced in the last 30 years is already a practical cover of these songs, so producing actual covers of them is redundant. Even in light of the planned redundancy of power pop, this merits criticism rather than praise.

4


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

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."

Music

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.

Film

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.

Books

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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