It’s as if Paul McCartney recorded “Wild Horses.”
On “Under Covers Vol. 3” (Shout! Factory), Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs perform “Our Lips Are Sealed,” the 1981, top 20 hit for the Los Angeles-based, all-female band the Go-Go’s. Back in the 1980s, Hoffs was lead singer for the Bangles, another Los Angeles-based, all-female band.
I don’t know that the Bangles and the Go-Go’s were legitimate rivals any more than were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but I can’t imagine McCartney covering a song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards or the Stones from 1964 forward performing a Beatles’ number.
Still, Hoffs must have known that the cover of “Our Lips Are Sealed” would attract special attention. She stretches her voice to the cracking point on each up-tempo verse as if she’s representing her sister Bangles in a fictional battle of the bands. While her extra effort and Sweet’s always-faithful guitar work fall just short of the Go-Go’s original, you won’t disappoint your guests at a 1980s-themed party by insisting that the DJ play this version.
Like presidential elections, a new “Under the Cover” CD comes around every four years. The first, in 2005, featured songs from the 1960s; the second, in 2009, moved the project into the 1970s. Late last year, Hoffs and Sweet released their versions of 14 songs from the 1980s.
Chatty comments from “Susie and Sid,” delivered in the third person, explain the reasons for each selection on Volume 3 in the liner notes. For example, there is this cute note about “Girls Talk”:
“Sid just wants to hear it;
Susie just wants to hear it;
Don’t we all just want to hear girls talk?”
Susie and Sid’s choices will please the listener who likes to think that the best of the 1980s represents a continuation of the best of the 1960s, the Beatles, the Byrds, and Bob Dylan in particular. None of the so-called hair bands—Poison, Guns’N’Roses, Judas Priest—made the cut, even though they were a huge part of the Sunset Strip music scene. I understand the decision, on musical and production grounds, but wouldn’t it have been intriguing to hear Hoffs sing the Poison ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”?
There is also nothing from the Big Three of Eighties male African American artists: Michael Jackson, Rick James, and Prince. The omission is more of a surprise; in 1986, after all, the Bangles had a #2 hit n the U.S. with Prince’s “Manic Monday.”
Popularity was also a factor in the selection process; there are no covers of obscure songs. R.E.M.’s “Sitting Still” is on the CD, along with “Kid” by the Pretenders, “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty, “Save it for Later” (the English Beat), and XTC’s “Towers of London.” One song I didn’t know, “The Bulrushes” by the Bongos, features a hard-charging two-chord riff that reminded me of the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” from 1966.
On this volume, and the two previous ones, Hoffs and Sweet are not prone to musical adventurism or radical reinterpretations. You won’t come away from these tracks thinking, “How did they do that?” or if you’re not happy with the result, “Why did they do it like that?”
Some of the versions in this collection sound more clean and clear than do the originals. For example, the cover of “They Don’t Know,” the late Kirsty MacColl’s wonderful single, which actually came out in Britain in 1979, enabled me to finally figure out all of the lyrics.
Same for the Hoffs/Sweet take on Roxy Music’s “More than This”; the singer allots the words plenty of room to be heard, while Bryan Ferry’s crooning makes certain phrases in the original difficult to decipher. Cover bands needing to quickly learn the lyrics and guitar parts of selected ’80s’ hits would be well advised to purchase this set.
As a political junkie, I look forward to another presidential election every four years. As a fan of excellent rock songs covered by skilled, name musicians, I look forward to another “Under the Covers” volume every four years. I’m preparing for the release of volume 4, the 1990s, in 2017.