There is no other labor of love more fitting than a ’60s retrospective by Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet. Both have often been defined by their ’60s influences and Under the Covers, Vol.1 plays like a historical primer to the music of both artists, and to the latter half of the decade featuring some of the prettiest rock music ever recorded. What started as a jokey backup band for Austin Powers has now become a fruitful collaboration exploring the music at which they somewhat poked fun. Hoffs, of course, started her career as the diminutive and hot lead singer of the Bangles and now is near fifty, still smokin’ hot (just look at the photos in the liner notes) and still with a fantastic smoky melodic voice. Sweet started as the guitarist for Oh-OK and Lloyd Cole before starting his solo career with the magnificent Girlfriend. Both came together in 1997 to form Ming Tea, the ’60s era band with the International Man of Mystery as the frontman. The film resulted in the subsequent collaboration, surely a gift for fans of both artists, ’60s music aficionados and purveyors of jangle pop.
Most of the songs selected for the project are well known hits, but there are a few obscurities here such as the Marmalades’ “I See the Rain” and the Left Banke’s “She May Call You Up Tonight.” Tunes by the decade’s powerhouses Dylan, the Beatles, the Who, Neil Young and the Beach Boys make the album a truly representative affair. Both Hoffs and Sweet shine in various spots, he in all of his jangly guitar mastery, she in her signature alluring voice. Some of the songs are rare for cover treatment and some have been done to death, but the two (dubbed Sid & Susie in the liner notes) breathe fresh life into each track. Most don’t differ too much from the originals, but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. Some will say that in order to perform a successful cover, you have to make the song your own, but I just can’t see messing with these classics in this way. Plus, you change it according to your style, and Hoffs & Sweet were already steeped in the sixties style. What really makes this album stand out are the accomplished voices of the duo.
OK, I’ll admit that I’ve held onto a massive crush on Susanna Hoffs for years and still think some of her smoldering and sly looks during the “Walk Like an Egyptian” video are the sexiest looks ever put onto film, but I assure you I’m not alone. What surprised me about this album is her adept and emotional turns on particular songs such as Fairport Convention’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” and the Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum.” Rather than trying to ape Sandy Denny or Linda Ronstadt, Hoffs delivers with her own style and succeeds beautifully. Sweet does sound a bit like Neil Young on the two covers they perform of his songs, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” and Hoffs balances him with harmonies nicely. Personal favorites of mine on this are Love’s epic “Alone Again Or” and the Zombies’ “Care of Cell 44,” with the latter’s flourishes sounding like bits of the Bangles’ great hit, “Eternal Flame.” And even though it’s really from the early ’70s, the closer “Run to Me,” originally by the Bee Gees, is a stunner.
Shout! Factory has made somewhat of a niche for themselves in this nostalgia field with the Stubbs the Zombie video game soundtrack featuring indie bands covering fifties’ hits and now the Sid n’ Susie collection. The album title cheekily includes the subscript, “Volume 1,” and hopefully for us, Hoffs and Sweet continue this magical collaboration by either exploring more of the sixties, or even tackling other decades on the Shout! Factory label. I’d love to hear them perform some of their favorites from their ’80s and ’90s contemporaries! Maybe Sweet could do Teenage Fanclub while Hoffs delivers some Go-Go’s or Pretenders tunes. Either way, the emphasis of this record is on fun. Songs represent more of the ideas surrounding “The Summer of Love,” the folk movement, and sunny pop rather than political protest songs or the darkness surrounding the escalating Vietnam War. Hoffs & Sweet know that music is all about having a good time and with Under the Covers, Vol.1, that’s exactly what they provide. Smashing, baby.