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Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs - Under the Covers, Vol. 2 (Shout Factory)

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs - Under the Covers, Vol. 2 (Shout Factory)
17 January 2011

Since the early Bangles covered Emitt Rhodes ’ 1967 Merry Go-Round classic “Live” in 1984— and even before that when they were the ‘60s-inspired jangle-popsters The Bangs , and she took part in the 1983 covers LP Rainy Day that was something of a forerunner of this covers collaboration—we recall Hoffs’ and her hit band’s roots were in the terrific L.A. Paisley Underground ‘60s revival scene, before transitioning into more polished, commercial pop. So it was no surprise that, teamed with ‘90s-to-present power-pop star Sweet (as they had been with Mike Myers in Ming Tea , singing “BBC” and “Daddy Wasn’t There” in two Austin Powers films, 1997 and 2002!), that the pair would co-author a 60’s/early ‘70s covers record as well-chosen and entertaining—if hardly revelatory—as 2006’s Vol. 1 . From the killer 1972 Bee Gees (the Gibb brothers’ last gasp of sheer, lasting greatness, still topping the charts before the terrible slide into blockbuster disco direland) track to Love , Fairport Convention , Zombies , Who , Beach Boys , Left Banke , Neil Young , Velvet Underground , Marmalade , Neil Young , Bob Dylan , and Revolver Beatles, it was a fans’ loving tribute record, getting way past the obvious selections (save for Love’s “Alone Again Or”) for a new era.

But perhaps they should have stopped there, as their succinct, unerring taste has slipped big-time this time ‘round. Too many of the cuts are too damn well-trodden-obvious, even when they go for more of the Incredibles, such as The Raspberries , Mott the Hoople (via David Bowie), and one of the two Todd Rundgren tunes—I mean, doing slight versions of sensational staples such as 1972 #5 “Go All the Way,” 1972 #37 “All the Young Dudes,” and 1972 #5 Hello It’s Me,” none of which veer far enough from the originals to offer new meaning or perspective, feels plain pointless. Likewise some lesser lights’ greatest moments, such as Carly Simon ’s 1972 #1 “You’re So Vain,” and Bread ’s uncharacteristically devastating 1972 #5 “Everything I Own,” which add little to the well-known; and who really needs to hear Rod Stewart ’s awful 1971 #1 warhorse “Maggie May” in any form again, anyway? (Between that, and the country-rock gone bad Grateful Dead and Little Feat covers, there’re some real skippable tracks this time!) Likewise, Generation X already had the punked-up last word on John Lennon ’s oddly ornery, straight to the gut 1971 Imagine tune “Gimme Some Truth,” and although I surprisingly like this stab at “Second Hand News” more than the 1977 Rumours original—they remove some of Fleetwood Mac ’s strutting hubris that always turned me off to that group as a teen—it’s still not enough to make me love it.

Fortunately there are some nice moments. Turning Yes ’s 1971 #40 classic rock conundrum “I’ve Seen All Good People” into a lighter, better-sung/harmonized folk madrigal works surprisingly great (this is the sort of reinvention this collection needed a lot more of if they were going to try so many been-there-heard-that-don’t-need-its!), complete with a Lennon “Give Peace a Chance” break,” and Big Star ’s Radio City classic “Back of a Car” is the sort of discerning deep-cut pick that, like all of Vol. 1, plays to their strengths more. And what a nice touch getting Dhani Harrison to play on his ex- Beatles pops’ little-remembered gem “Beware of Darkness” to close things with by far this collection’s one truly remarkable track, not to be missed. Too bad it’s at the end where it might be missed! And no matter what, the great Ric Menck of Velvet Crush plays lovely, tasty drums throughout,

But as a whole? This time, Vol. 2 feels less educational, less fun, less inspired, and just plain less useful to serve as loving tribute, refresher course, or introduction, getting a C in a course they’d already aced. (