Cover albums, or even cover songs, are always daunting for both
musicians and reviewers alike, especially when reimagining pop
songs considered classic and sacrosanct. A good cover can do many
things - the worst either try to recreate the original or misconstrue
it to such a point that it is unflattering and unrecognizable;
the best forge new musical landscapes or highlight aspects of
the original that influenced later artists. Fortunately, the new
Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs collection, Under The Covers,
Vol. 1, belongs to the latter category. In fact, the relationship
between the songs on Under The Covers, Vol. 1 and their
original counterparts is circular, with Sweet and Hoffs highlighting
the aspects of '60s pop, rock, folk, and hard rock that spawned
the power pop movement and transforming each track with their
superb dreamy harmonies and power pop instrumentation to bridge
the gap between these seemingly disparate genres.
Beginning with a cover of the Marmalades' "I See
the Rain," Sweet and longtime guitarist Richard Lloyd
set the pace with their trademark crunchy, yet melodic guitar
riffs, while drummer Ric Menck (Velvet Crush) adds
a punk-meets-Brit-pop backbeat. The Beatles' "And
Your Bird Can Sing" has a roots-rock feel with '60s pop harmonies,
while Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
owes more to the Byrds' country-rock version of the song
than Dylan's minimalist folk, with the nonpareil Van Dyke Parks
contributing delectable, '60s-flavored organ flourishes. Here,
Hoffs' dreamy ah-ah-ahs complement Sweet's Tom Petty-esque
lead vocals and jangly lead guitar to create a rock song with
only minor country tinges. Sweet and Hoffs move into folk-pop
territory with their country-rock cover Fairport Convention's
"Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" Hoffs wisely does not
try to emulate the inimitable Sandy Denny, allowing her
own voice to shine.
Sweet and Hoffs recorded two songs from Neil Young and Crazy
Horse's stellar debut, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
- the hard rockin' "Cinnamon Girl" and the country-hard
rock hybrid title song. Their version of the former highlights
both the proto-punk and proto-metal aspects of Young's work -
thanks in large part to Menck's driving rhythm and Lloyd's wailing
take on Danny Whitten's lead guitar part. The latter becomes
a de-countrified power pop that rocks much harder than the original,
and yet retains the original melody. The Sweet/Hoffs version of
Love's "Alone Again Or" is strikingly similar
to the original, save the ethereal lead vocals and the heavier
Spanish influences in the lead guitar and trumpet parts, while
The Beach Boys' "Warmth of the Sun" features
a distorted lead guitar riff that would not be out of place on
a Sadies album. Hoffs' vocal take on The Stone Poneys'
"Different Drum" rivals that of Linda Ronstadt,
but here again Hoffs does not try to sound like her idol. "Different
Drum" also features a mellotron and string bridge that is
worthy of the Beatles and a rhythm section that pinpoints the
connections and co-influences between pop and punk music.
Sweet and Hoffs' take on The Who's "The Kids Are
Alright" owes more to The Replacements and Who's
Next-era Who than the band's early version of the song, while
their retread of The Velvet Underground's "Sunday
Morning" is far more melodic than the original, thanks in
large part to Hoffs' childlike contralto and Sweet's ambient harmonies.
The harpsichord- and piano-driven cover of The Zombies'
"Care of Cell #44" finds Hoffs channeling Petula
Clark, while string-infused take on The Mamas and the Papas'
"Monday, Monday" features a lead vocal from Sweet that
rivals Denny Doherty's original in conviction and '60s
cool if not vocal strength. "Monday, Monday" also features
a Buffalo Springfield-inspired harpsichord-and-guitar reel
that is as central to this version of the song as the strings
and vocal harmonies. The Left Banke's "She May Call
You Up Tonight" features a piano intro straight out of Bruce
Springsteen's "Born to Run" and a fitting baroque
string section to offset the three-chord janglepop guitars and
simple, yet driving rock rhythm. The final track on Under The
Covers, Vol. 1 is a rather straightforward remake of the Bee
Gees' "Run to Me" featuring heavy strings and a
piano-driven melody. "Run to Me" is the only true duet
on Under The Covers, Vol. 1, with Hoffs sounding like,
well, Susanna Hoffs and Sweet sounding more than a bit like he's
channeling Robin Gibb.
Slightly derivative vocalizations not withstanding, Under
The Covers, Vol. 1 is an enchanting combination of old and
new, a collection that highlights the seemingly nebulous connection
between '60s pop and latter day power pop, punk, and hard rock.
A melodic blend of experimentation and tradition, Under The
Covers, Vol. 1 serves both as a primer on '60s pop and rock
music and an album in its own right.
-Tracy M. Rogers
1. I See the Rain
2. And Your Bird Can Sing
3. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
4. Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
5. Cinnamon Girl
6. Alone Again Or
7. The Warmth of the Sun
8. Different Drum
9. The Kids Are Alright
10. Sunday Morning
11. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
12. Care of Cell #44
13. Monday, Monday
14. She May Call You Up Tonight
15. Run to Me
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