Hey, dude, I know that song! A look at a trio of new all-covers albums by power pop stars

Categories: CD Preview

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Shout Factory
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs make beautiful music together... other people's music, that is.

Covers albums, by their very nature, are a mixed bag. Not only are their songs usually drawn from disparate sources, but the quality of interpretations varies wildly as well.

Beyond that, the covers album seems to represent a mixed bag for the artists creating them. On the one hand, it gives them a, presumably, fun opportunity to try their hand at someone else's material, but it comes at the price of fans wondering if the artist has run out of his or her own musical ideas. On the other hand, the covering artist must have previously achieved some measure of notoriety with their own material for a record company to believe that enough of their fans would be interested in their versions of somebody else's songs and release the covers disc.

Here's a look at three new all-covers discs by some power-pop notables. All are mixed bags and all are available now.

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

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As the title denotes, this disc is the second covers collaboration between Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, of the Bangles, and Vol. 2 is a romp through tunes from the 1970s, just as Vol. 1 focused on the '60s. The duo cast a wide net, roping in mega-hits such as You're So Vain, Hello It's Me and Maggie May along with underground gems like Big Star's Back of a Car. Sweet and Hoffs (who just hit the big 5-0 this year, but looks 15 years younger in the album artwork) trade lead vocals on some tunes and duet on others to great effect, especially Hoffs sexily singing the chorus of The Raspberries' naughty Go All The Way. The only real stumble here is Sweet doing an awful disservice to Tom Petty's spoken/sung verses on Here Comes My Girl. As Sweet and Hoffs both began their musical careers in the 1980s, I wonder if the duo will cover themselves when they reach Volume 3?

The Lemonheads
Varshons
(The End)

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Some covers albums contain songs you know, others are full of ones you've probably never heard of and the new Lemonheads disc is decidedly one of the latter. It closes with a straightforward take on Christina Aguilera's Beautiful (penned by Linda Perry), but the 10 songs that precede it are nowhere near mainstream recognition and run the gamut from country-folk to electro-new wave (Dirty Robot featuring vocals by Kate Moss, yes, that Kate Moss and she does a great deadpan delivery). Maybe that's because it's made up of songs head lemon Evan Dando culled from various mix tapes slipped to him over the years by Butthole Surfers mastermind Gibby Haynes, who produced this disc. After a couple of solo affairs, Dando has resurrected the band name and format for his last couple of records. While quite good, this new album of mostly obscure songs isn't going to lead The Lemonheads back to the pop culture forefront where they enjoyed a brief stay in the early '90s but, maybe, that's just the way Dando wants it.

The Smithereens
Play Tommy
(E1)

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The Smithereens have made covers discs something of a cottage industry of late. In the last two years alone, they've released a pair of albums of all-Beatles material and now comes their take on The Who's rock opera, Tommy. This is something of a Reader's Digest version of the original work, paring 24 tracks down to a lean 13, but hitting all the highlights. While The Who's music is rendered quite faithfully, Smithereeens singer Pat DiNizio's deep voice is a world away from Roger Daltrey's, and he wisely gives way to guitarist Jim Babjak and drummer Dennis Diken for lead vocals on songs that need a lighter feel. As always, The Smithereens sound terrific, but I'm still not sure what the point is or who the audience would be for this abridged version of Pete Townshend's masterpiece.

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