Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs climb another rung on the ladder of decades with Under The Covers Vol. 3. This time, the power pop singer-songwriter and Bangles singer-guitarist take on the 1980s, which means they’re simultaneously tapping into nostalgia and paying tribute to their contemporaries. Most of the artists covered here are still currently performing, although the members of R.E.M. have moved on to separate projects. As they did with the 1960s and 1970s, Sweet and Hoffs don’t stray too far from the original arrangements of their well-chosen songs.
Backed by bass player-guitarist Dennis Taylor and drummer Ric Menck throughout the 14 tracks, they put a definite emphasis on energetic, guitar-driven songs with indelible melodies. Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” is as slow as the material gets, and Roxy Music’s seductive “More Than This” is the only track where keyboards play a dominant role. Sweet and Hoffs take turns on lead vocals, and their harmonies, usually coming together on the chorus, are first rate. There’s a mix of well-known songs like The Go-Go’s’ “Our Lips Are Sealed,” The Pretenders’ “Kid,” and Elvis Costello’s “Girls Talk,” as well as more obscure fare like The Bongos’ “The Bulrushes,” The dB’s’ “Big Brown Eyes,” and XTC’s “Towers Of London.” A take on Echo And The Bunnymen’s mysterious “Killing Moon” gives the CD a darker edge and Sweet And Hoffs also nail The Smiths’ angst-ridden masterpiece, “How Soon Is Now.”