Release Date: Nov 12, 2013
Record label: Shout! Factory
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, College Rock
For established songwriters such as Hoffs and Sweet, you have to wonder whether it’s slightly galling for them to have commercial success with a series of albums of other artist’s songs. The singer-songwriter boom of the ‘70s surely taught the ambitious kids that to make any serious money it helped to have that all important songwriter’s credit. Perhaps, however, with the Internet and all, unless you’re aiming for total mass sell-out, it doesn’t make much difference these days? What goes around comes around, and as I’m listening to Under the Covers, volume 3, this time an album of 1980s covers by Hoffs and Sweet, my teenage son (who was definitely not born in the 1980s) ably tells me details about the original versions.
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs continue their parade through pop's past with Under the Covers, Vol. 3, a third volume that brings the duo into the '80s. This just so happens to be the decade when both singers began their professional careers. Hoffs went supernova with the Bangles in 1986, the same year Sweet released his debut Inside on Columbia, and while it'd be another half-decade before Matthew experienced his own flush of success, the two are steeped in the underground pop culture of the '80s, where the records of the '60s were celebrated and refracted through the Paisley Underground, R.E.M., and even the one-hit-wonders dotting the landscape of MTV.
Matthew Sweet & Susanna HoffsUnder the Covers Vol. 3(Shout! Factory)Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars Imagine a karaoke bar where a male and female vocal duo knocks it out of the park on a batch of 80’s alternative pop/rock nuggets. This is that, and better, since you won’t need to deal with an inebriated audience singing along too. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs’ third joint offering follows the blueprint established from the previous two; smartly picked, cooly performed covers of slightly under the radar material sung to arrangements nearly identical to the originals.
It may not have been immediately evident when they began, but the ongoing otherpeople’s- songs project of power-pop player Sweet and Bangles chanteuse Hoffs is following a fairly precise game plan. Previous releases focused on the 60s and 70s, and now the duo arrive at the decade when they started making records of their own. Arguably, the songs here mean more to Matt and Suze than on the earlier collections; revisiting material by artists who are contemporaries and feasibly still friends.
There are a few reasons for artists to do cover tunes. Cover songs are often crowd-pleasers that bring in new and returning fans. Sometimes the artist has a new take on an old classic and wants to put their own spin on it. Or perhaps the song is seemingly well outside of the artist’s purported repertoire and the cover comes as quite a surprise to fans and critics.
As the latest entry in a series of nods to pop classics of past eras, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs’ Under the Covers Vol. 3 puts the focus on material crafted by a variety of ‘80s icons — from Tom Petty, The Smiths and REM, to XTC, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Roxy Music. As always, the pair don’t mess with the melodies or alter the arrangements simply to suit their own egos.
Covers albums tend to be scattered affairs by their very nature, as artists hopscotch through their favorite tunes by their heroes. So it is to the great credit of Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs that “Under the Covers, Vol. 3” sounds like a totally cohesive album.