Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – Under the Covers Vol. 3

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs – aka “Sid ‘n’ Susie,” as the booklet cover gently advises – pull off quite a hat-trick on the third installment of their Under the Covers series. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Where 2006’s delightful first volume tackled ’60s covers from the likes of Beatles, Fairports, Velvets and Neil Young, and 2009’s somewhat less enthralling Vol. 2 essayed the ’70s (sparkling treatments of Raspberries and Todd Rundgren were offset by the soggy likes of Bread and Derek & the Dominos), the duo’s take on the ’80s pushes the “fun” meter all the way into the red. Maybe it’s because by that point in time both musicians were engaged with their own nascent careers, so the chance to revisit the era represented more than just an exercise in homage – they were transported back to their own collective past, which sometimes included sharing stages with several of the artists covered here. You can’t top that for authenticity.

And I defy you not to sing along to the chorus of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” or the entirety of The dB’s “Big Brown Eyes,” or whip out the air guitar and chop along with the signature riffs in The English Beat’s “Save It For Later” and The Bongos’ “The Bulrushes.” Hell, you might even find yourself grabbing a partner and going all Chrissie Hynde and James Honeyman-Scott on each other while The Pretenders’ eternally yearning “Kid” shimmers, twangs and throbs. Toss in sundry Roxy, XTC, Bunnymen and Go-Go’s tunes and we’re talking serious house party time.

Back to that hat-trick: In their dead-on cover of R.E.M.’s “Sitting Still,” which kicks the album off in a starburst of jangles and pulse-quickening beats, Sweet and Hoffs conjure a lyrical doppelganger that reprises the tune’s original rush of imagery while still managing to make no sense at all – just like the official Stipe-ean construct! Check lyric sites on the web and you’ll discover wildly contradictory transcriptions (and in the case of, the compilers simply gave up). “OK, we’re still not sure about the lyrics!” confesses Sweet in the booklet’s liners. “But that was part of the coolness.”

No kidding. Under the Covers Vol. 3 returns the element of innocent coolness to these New Wave nuggets. It’s my new favorite Saturday night record, and if you are of a certain age, I trust it will soon be yours, too.

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs
Under The Covers Vol. 3
[Shout! Factory]