Last month, I reviewed Kisses on the Bottom, a covers album by “the cute one,” Paul McCartney. While I rated the record, there was no getting away from the fact “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter,” “The Glory Of Love,” and other sugar coated standards came wrapped in a conservative bow, and oh what a surprise, just in time for Valentine’s Day!
The covers album is a problematic one; if not overtly self-indulgent, it is instead associated with clean-cut crooners masking dollar signs behind their winks-into-camera (oh hi, Michael Buble!). Thankfully, Macy Gray‘s Covered will not be falling into the “Mother’s Day Must Have” bargain basket at Walmart anytime soon.
Scanning over the track listing – Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Kanye West, Metallica, My Chemical Romance - it looks like it has been compiled by a hipster with a mild hint of nerdiness. Thus, does Covered lean towards the self-indulgent end of the cover albums cline? Surprisingly – no.
Covered achieves accessible, only without resorting to nauseating nana numbers. That said, it is not easy-listening. Gray does not make an overt attempt to merge such an eclectic range of tracks into one bracket ‘style’. Of course, her ever-distinct rasp means there is always some subtle thread running between the tracks, but the overall album is sonically assorted – jumping from electronic, to rock, to reggae, to soul.
Admittedly, this can sometimes come off as messy, like in the stylistically inconsistent cover of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps“, or the oddball amalgamation of Kanye West‘s “Love Lockdown” with Nina Simone‘s “Buck“. Similarly, Macy’s take on My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers” starts off charming, but ends up ultimately confused, while the gospel-flecked cover of Arcade Fire‘s “Wake Up” is not a scratch on the original. And come on Macy, we all know covering Radiohead’s “Creep” is #1 in the Book of Clichés.
But the album brims full of brilliant twists. Opener, a cover of Eurythmics‘ “Here Comes The Rain Again”, is awash with doom, while Gray shows us her wild side when she launches into the tirade that is The Toyes’/Bob Marley‘s “Smoke Two Joints”. Macy sparkles while teaming up with British actor, Idris Elba, on a chill cover of Colbie Caillat‘s “Bubbly,” but the unlikely highlight comes in the form of Metallica‘s “Nothing Else Matters.” Drenched in atmospheric, vintage organs, it is here that Gray pours her heart and soul into the record and produces her best vocal.
Undoubtedly, music snobs will object to “that ‘I Try’ singer” covering many of these tracks. But Gray is not taking herself too seriously, and nor should you! Indeed, this is likely why Macy has scattered “skits” – comedic interludes alongside stars ranging from Nicole Scherzinger to MC Lyte - throughout Covered. So you can drop your judgements and simply enjoy.
Fun? Bold? Often beautiful? Macy’s got it Covered.