Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs remind us how there were two different kinds of pop charts in the 80s. Yes, there was the official Billboard chart that tabulated sales and airplay. But there was also the cool people hit list; likely only a radio station in the heads of alternative rock kids.
This is already the third volume of cover songs created by Sweet Hoffs, and unlike their previous 60s and 70s collections, this set focuses on an era in which each artist was at his/her commercial peak. The irony is not lost when Hoffs sings “Our Lips Are Sealed,” as that was a hit for The Go-Go’s, a onetime rival of Hoffs’ all-girl band, The Bangles.
Hoffs mostly gets to sing the sweet, girly songs such as “Kid,” (The Pretenders) and, “They Don’t Know” (Kirsty MacColl). Sweet, on the other hand, tackles slightly harsher sounds, like REM with “Sitting Still” and The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now.” The later is the most famous U.S. Smiths song. But many of these selections are relatively obscure, such as the album track,”Towers of London,” from XTC. Many listeners may have never even heard the original of “Big Brown Eyes” by The dB’s or The Bongos’ “The Bullrushes. Ah, but here’s to second chances!
Sweet and Hoff’s voices go together extremely well, yet this album sounds more like a loving tribute album to an era, than any kind of a strict duet project. In some instances, listeners my get a little sad when hearing The English Beat’s “Save It For Later,” fully realizing this should have been a smash hit, but wasn’t. Even if you weren’t an 80s music snob, though, this latest selective overview of the decade will leave you feeling good. It may even make you wish you were there.