MATTHEW SWEET AND SUSANNA HOFFS Under The Covers Vol. 1 (Evangeline)
This album is so much better than it has any right to be. Take two minor-league American power-poppers and allow them to indulge their folk-rock and Anglophile tendencies through a self-selected batch of (substantially) 60s covers, and is it any wonder that proceedings have the eensiest, teensiest whiff of the mighty Big Star about them? Not given the credentials of the protagonists, who in their MySpace incarnation and in the booklet notes have renamed themselves Sid n Susie for the duration: once a Bangle, Susie can probably lay claim to introducing more people to the music of Big Star in one fell swoop than any other artist, the band having covered September Gurls on their Different Light; Sid had actually been approached to join the reconvened 90s model Big Star.
The songs selected veer from the predictable (Monday, Monday) to the ostensibly bizarre (Neil Young, Love, The Velvet Underground) to the downright obscure (The Left Banke, Marmalade), yet they hang together surprisingly well as a cohesive and enjoyable whole. The absence of a Byrds tune seems an odd omission given that not only do Dylan and Fairport Convention make the cut but the Beatles selection And Your Bird Can Sing finds the fab four at their jangliest. Its All Over Now, Baby Blue is arguably the biggest disappointment of the album, especially given the continual reinvention its endured at the hands of its author, but for once Sweet and Hoffs get tangled up (in blue), missing the care so obviously applied elsewhere. Who Knows Where The Time Goes? is much better, and step forward Ms Hoffs, whose singing Ive clearly underrated for decades if this breathy, stoic vulnerability is typical of her interpretative gifts. (She also soars mightily over Different Drum). The duo are no Crazy Horse, but they capture the acrid, crackling (ragged) glory of Cinnamon Girl, and youll forgive them the extravagance of covering the first two songs off Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" when you hear its title track nailed with the excellence displayed here. The dappled melancholy of The Warmth Of The Sun was arguably a safer, if less ambitious choice than Good Vibrations or something from Pet Sounds; The Kids Are Alright in fact, any Who tune might seem a strange inclusion given that the twosome are a bit too candyfloss fluffy to really go all garage rock on us, but its still deliriously enjoyable; youll want to sing along. Sunday Morning is, fittingly, from the folkier end of The Velvet Undergrounds repertoire; as the less-illuminating-than-you-might-hope booklet commentary notes, bells against feedback. Although, surprisingly, the kick-ass numbers seem more successful than the pure pop moments, The Zombies creamy, quirky celebration of a loved ones imminent release from prison Care Of Cell #44 is perfect for this time and place: heck, it even has a Mellotron on it! The Left Bankes She May Call You Up Tonight is even finer perhaps because, unlike many of these picks, it doesnt carry the weight of accumulated expectation and anticipation. Oh, and before I forget, genuine 60s visionary Van Dyke Parks contributes to some of these tunes, as does Television guitarist Richard Lloyd.
A second volume of 60s tunes might be pushing it, but how about dropping some of the Alex Chilton songbook into a 70s sequel? Now that would be a tantalising prospect. In the meantime, Under The Covers Vol. 1 wouldve been the perfect soundtrack for the summer just gone, and arguably many yet to come as well.