Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs
Under the Covers Vol. 3
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. They shift their attention to the 80s (the previous sets focused on the 60s and 70s) and gather 14 terrific tunes to revive, all but two (the dB’s and the Bongos) familiar to fans of college/alternative radio of that decade. It’s clearly a love letter to this music and a joy to hear Hoffs take the Bryan Ferry lead on “More than This,” replace Lindsey Buckingham on his loping “Trouble” and let Sweet substitute for the sour Morrissey on the Smith’s “How Soon is Now.” Their backing harmonies are impeccable, beautifully rendered and bring honeyed electricity to these renditions.
But as much as this is a charming, honest tribute to music the twosome love, it’s also a bit of a missed opportunity. As enthralling as it is to hear these dusted off gems sung by the vivacious couple, none improve on the originals— although Hoffs’ take on Kirsty MacColl’s sprightly “They Don’t Know” comes close—and the overdubbed qualities that made the album possible, extract some emotion from by-the-numbers arrangements. And while it’s impressive how close these performances hew to the ones that got them on the pop culture map, it would be more intriguing to hear them creatively rearranged to infuse a fresh slant to oldies already tattooed on the brains of the 40 somethings that have lived with them for nearly 30 years.
Regardless, this well-intentioned exercise in nostalgia is an enticing 52 minute ride (three more are on a the deluxe edition), and if it sends Gen X’ers back to the archetype versions and keeps them out of the karaoke clubs, it’s more than done its job.