Inevitably, what was once uncool becomes cool at some point in time, at least from a musical standpoint. I remember in the mid Nineties, all the alternative rock kids (who had come of age in the Seventies) began worshipping Karen Carpenter as some sort of goddess although she played the type of music that would have gotten her laughed off the stage at Lollapalooza. Not to say that Hall & Oates was the 80s equivalent of the Carpenters, but there are some similarities. They’re both duos, and they both ruled Top 40 radio for the first half of a decade. They’ve also both received belated props from modern musicians as great pop craftsmen.
Acts from Gym Class Heroes and Fall Out Boy to Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott have praised Daryl and John in interviews and performances, and now pop duo The Bird & the Bee have stepped up to the plate and delivered a tribute album to the Philly soul of Hall & Oates, called “Interpreting the Masters Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall & John Oates”.
The Bird & the Bee are a synth-pop duo consisting of vocalist/keyboardist Inara George and keyboardist Greg Kurstin. I actually discovered them via their beautiful cover of The Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love” a few years back, so they’re not new to the idea of reimagining blue-eyed soul classics. If I was to compare them to any popular act, I would say that they sound like a femme-fronted verion of the Ben Gibbard side project The Postal Service (or Owl City, which is essentially a Christian carbon copy of The Postal Service anyway). Inara has a warm, soothing voice, something that helps differentiate these covers from the iconic originals.
The fact that these songs are now sung by a female voice is one of the things that keeps “Interpreting the Masters” from being, as Simon Cowell would say, “karaoke”. From a melodic and tempo standpoint, some of The Bird & the Bee’s renditions are pretty faithful to the originals. I’ve reviewed a lot of covers albums in the past, and they tend to work best when the artist(s) bring a little something different to the table. Songs like “Kiss on My List” and “Maneater” are fun to listen to, but I can’t help but wonder “what’s the point?”, considering I can just either fire up iTunes or my CD player and pop the superior original versions in.
Thankfully, other songs here justify the price of admission. Hall & Oates’ sexy 1983 ballad “One on One” is slowed down and given a more erotic pulse. Charlie DeChant’s memorable sax solo is replaced by a synth/guitar part, and the end result is more Massive Attack than Barry White. The Bird & the Bee also score with “Private Eyes”, removing the new wave elements of the original and turning the song into a dance floor scorcher. They also include one original song-“Heard it on the Radio”. It fits right in with the covers included on the album, and if you’re not privy to liner notes, you could very easily think it, too, is a cover of a Hall & Oates song. It captures the melodic goodness of most of the music from the early Eighties perfectly.
I can’t remember the last time I liked a covers record-so the fact that I enjoy this comes as something of a surprise. That speaks not only to the fact that The Bird & the Bee were able to do a good job making their revisions interesting and not boring, but to the fact that the source material is so damn good. Whatever you think about The Eighties, or pop music in the Eighties, Hall and Oates’ mixture of pop, rock, new wave and R&B was inventive, and they wrote a hell of a song. Hopefully, this album will introduce the duo to a new generation of fans, but if I see one hipster walking around wearing a Hall & Oates T-shirt, I might just jump into traffic.