Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs – Under the Covers, Vol. 3
Power-pop purveyor Sweet and ex-Bangle Hoffs, who paid tribute to some of their favorite songs of the sixties and seventies on this album’s two predecessors, take on the eighties in this 14-track collection. (An iTunes deluxe edition adds three more numbers.) Like volumes one and two, the new disc eschews reinterpretations in favor of faithful covers, making it of interest mainly to fans of the duo and those who share their taste in oldies.
That taste is mostly excellent in my view. Though the programs on this volume and its immediate predecessor are not quite as strong as the one on the sixties package, Sweet and Hoffs again eschew the rubbish that often made it into the Top 40 in favor of less formulaic material that enjoyed cult followings. There are some widely known compositions here, such as Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” but the menu also includes the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon,” the Bongos’ “Bulrushes” and the English Beat’s “Save It for Later.” Fully half the songs are ones that rank among my longtime favorites.
Some of the performances by Sid ’n’ Susie (as Sweet and Hoffs bill themselves for this series) are more noteworthy than others. “Sitting Still” lacks the intensity of the Michael Stipe vocal on the R.E.M. original; also forgettable are covers of “Big Brown Eyes” by the db’s and XTC’s “Towers of London.” But most of the songs that put Hoffs’s seductive alto in the spotlight really shine, and it’s particularly interesting to hear her tackle numbers that originally featured male vocalists, such as Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” Lindsey Buckingham’s “Trouble” and Elvis Costello’s “Girl Talk” (in a satisfying version that echoes Dave Edmunds’s). She also nails the Pretenders’ classic “Kid” and proves a perfect match for Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know,” a 1984 hit for Tracey Ullman that recalls the “girl groups” era.
Nothing here outshines the originals, but if you’re a fan of Hoffs and Sweet and love these songs as much as they obviously do, you’ll be glad you picked this up.
Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com) edited Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters (Chicago Review Press, 2013). The same publisher will issue his Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters in April 2014.