Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Uninspired Unoriginals: The Bird And The Bee Fizzle With Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates

The Good: sounds good, Shows respect for the original works.
The Bad: Short, Doesn't make a single song their own.
The Basics: More repetition than reinvention, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates gives a feminine voice to classic songs, but little else.

Once upon a time, or actually a few days ago, I was at Barnes & Noble and I heard songs that sounded remarkably familiar coming over the audio system. The moment “Kiss On My List” came over the speakers with a woman's voice doing the vocals, I knew exactly what was up. I was listening to a “Hall & Oates” tribute. One quick question to the Music department in the store confirmed they were playing Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall & John Oates. And, I swear, I'm the only one in the world who does not like this album.

The truth is, it's not that I do not like the album, it is that I am utterly unimpressed with it. Now, admittedly, I have high standards for what I like in a cover song. A great cover song should reinterpret, reinvent and make the listener rethink the song they are listening to. Some of the best cover songs that come instantly to mind are Sophie B. Hawkins' cover of “I Want You,” Marilyn Manson's cover of “Sweet Dreams” or Melissa Etheridge's cover of “Refugee.” Unfortunately, The Bird And The Bee do none of that on Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall & John Oates. From the very beginning, the title is a misnomer.

"Interpreting" is different than "replicating" and with this album, The Bird And The Bee, an alternative pop duo recreate nine songs from Hall & Oates and they expect listeners to be wowed by the fact that most of the songs are presented with a female vocalist instead of the traditional male singers who originally performed them. Alas, it takes more than that to truly interpret and impress. The result is a collection of nine songs from Hall & Oates and one song by The Bird And The Bee, which sounds like it is in the Hall & Oates tradition. That song, "Heard It On The Radio" is the closest the band comes to interpreting the pop duo of Hall & Oates.

With only ten tracks occupying about forty-five minutes worth of the c.d.'s capacity, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall & John Oates has very little of original content by The Bird And The Bee. They wrote one unique song for the album, the rest were provided by Hall & Oates. While the duo plays all their own instruments, the notes were the product of Hall & Oates as well. The band does perform all of their own lead vocals, but outside their unique song, there is nothing most listeners haven't heard before. The duo of The Bird And The Bee did not produce the album either.

Instrumentally, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall & John Oates is where the album first has a serious wrinkle. Songs like "Private Eyes," "I Can't Go For That" and "Rich Girl" sound just like they did when Hall & Oates did them thirty years ago. My point here is that there are no reinterpretations, nothing imaginative done with the songs. The Bird And The Bee become a cheap cover band for the works of Hall & Oates, replicating as best they can the keyboard stylings and memorable percussion of the earlier band as best they can with drums (and drum machines), keyboards and guitars. The Bird And The Bee make the songs sound as energetic and catchy as they originally did, which is largely because Hall & Oates knew how to write a good hook.

But that's also the problem with Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall & John Oates. The Bird And The Bee stay as true to the originals as they can and the result is just a series of songs that sound like someone else covering Hall & Oates. A great cover can change the flavor, bring out all new emotions, express the lyrics better, whatever. Mundane cover songs sound like the originals and the truth is, at the end of listening to this album a second time, I was more inclined to pick up a Hall & Oates album than I was to buy this. "Maneater" sounds like "Maneater" and "One On One" never evolves beyond the original, somewhat sappy melody it was originally. "One On One," for example could have been reinterpreted to be slow, stripped down on the production and come across as entirely saucy, even raunchy, to give it an entirely different sound and feel. The Bird And The Bee are not so creative.

They do, however, shake the sound up by having female vocals. This moves most of the songs out of the strained tenor range and into a surprisingly comfortable soprano range. In this way, at least, the album sounds slightly different from the original songs. Lead singer Inara George gets through the songs in her own wispy fashion and register, but for the most part, the songs are recognizable and exactly what the listener expects of Hall & Oates songs.

Lyrically, the only original song is "Heard It On The Radio," which at least has the benefit of not falling into a predictable rhyme scheme the way many of Hall & Oates’ songs do. With lines like “When we first met, it wasn't what you said / And still I loved you like mad, I loved you like mad / When we first met, they were playing that song / And then it stuck into my head, stuck into my head / When we first kissed, it made it to my list / And I couldn't stop myself, think of nothing else / When we parked the car, they were playing that song / And we turned it up to ten and started up again” (“I Heard It On The Radio”) the duo tells a musical storysong of falling in love with ironic nods to the band they are making a tribute to.

Ultimately, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates isn’t bad, but there is nothing superlative about it. The “wow” of hearing Hall & Oates songs in a feminine voice quickly wears off and listeners are more likely to crave the originals than truly want to keep spinning this disc. After all, why have Memorex, when you can have live?

The best song is “Heard It On The Radio,” but there are no truly bad tracks on the album.

For other albums with vocalists who have strong feminine voices, please check out my reviews of:
Dar Williams - The Honesty Room
Natalie Imbruglia - Left Of The Middle"


For more music reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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