Album Review: Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – Under the Covers, Vol. 2

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs both have deserved reputations as excellent pop artists with impeccable taste in influences. Both came to commercial and artistic maturity in the 80s: Sweet as a solo artist, Hoffs fronting The Bangles. Both have hip cred with important musical scenes; The Bangles were part of the “Paisley Underground” movement in LA, and Sweet moved from Nebraska to Athens GA at that height of city’s musical renaissance (see: REM, Pylon, etc.).Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs - Under the Covers Vol. 2 Neither artist has bowed much to the temptation to include covers on their regular albums (though it should be noted that The Bangles did winning versions of The Merry Go Round‘s “Live” and the La De Das‘ “How Is the Air Up There”). It came as a surprise and a delight when Sweet and Hoffs — who had worked together as part of the Mike Myers-fronted Ming Tea in the Austin Powers films — joined together to record Under the Covers Vol. 1 in 2006. Using the moniker Sid’n’Susie, the duo and friends turned out a fantastic collection of songs familiar to aficionados of the Nuggets compilations (and largely unknown to everyone else). The album was designed on some level as an attempt to rescue great pop songs from undeserved obscurity, but it still made a great listen. And the “Vol. 1” tag whetted listeners’ appetites for a followup, though the artists were coy at the time. Let’s see if it sells, they (understandably) may have thought.

Well, regardless, 2009 brings Volume 2. With an emphasis shifting slightly to later period (one we’ll call the proto-powerpop era), the album once again is chockablock full of pop goodness. There are stellar and near note-perfect covers of Big Star, the Raspberries, Mott The Hoople and two from rock’s renaissance man, Todd Rundgren.

There are some country-rock and MOR-oriented tunes on the set that are fine enough, but those songs (covers of the Grateful Dead, Bread and the Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac) don’t evoke any particular nostalgia in this listener. That’s likely down to personal taste. But any collection that has the potential to turn a listener on to Big Star’s “Back of a Car” or John Lennon‘s “Gimme Some Truth” is worthwhile. And few pop artists have the moxie to cover Yes‘ “I’ve Seen All Good People.”

Ultimately Under the Covers Vol. 2 is an enjoyable listen end to end, sort of a trip back to mid 70s FM radioland. Here’s hoping for a Vol. 3, but then they might start covering cool groups of the 80s. Like The Bangles. Hmm.