Im not entirely sure when Hall and Oates crossed over from embarrassing relic of the vinyl and tape era and crossed into retro chic. I am, however, certain that this turn of events pleases me because Hall and his mustachioed collaborator provided some of my favorite childhood songs in the form of irresistible hooks and delightful keyboards. Inara George and Greg Kurstin, better known as The Bird and The Bee, seemed to feel the same way. A year after releasing one of 2009s best pop albums, theyve decided to bestow Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall and John Oates, which is exactly what it sounds like. The LP, eight Hall and Oates covers and one original track, is as fun and interesting as youd expect from The Bird and The Bee.
Not to be a persnickety, but I think you must approach the album with the attitude that the title suggests: Its a tribute, not a covers album. While these are covers, George and Kurstin have an obvious respect for Hall and Oates. They preserve the sincerity and fun found in the originals while still putting their stamp on each song. In the process, they add some unexpected layers of the songs meaningsor maybe Im just overanalyzing.
However, the classic Maneater is the perfect example of how a good cover can pay reverence to the original and reveal something new about itself. The songs melody is as catch as you remember it, but the 80s cheese is dialed down and todays retro-80s-cheese is amped up with soft keyboards and guitars that are just as inoffensive as Hall and Oates original catalog. However, Georges cracking vocals on the refrain Watch out, boy, shell chew you up is almost heartbreaking. Yet, the fact that a female is now singing this song as a warning to a man makes me wonder whether George is undermining the competition or being sincere. Then I begin to wonder if the original was a fun narrative or a misogynistic yarnsomething I never questioned in the past 20-plus years of listening. Just to add to the flavor, the poster girl for strong, defiant women everywhereGarbages Shirley Mansonprovides backing vocals for the famous Oooh, here she comes line. This really fun song suddenly became a lot more interesting. Still, its three-plus minutes of pure fun that you can take at face value if you want.
Those details are peppered throughout Interpreting the Masters. The haunting take of Shes Gone, with slick harmonies and quiet keyboards, resonates on a deeper level than it has any right to. The narrator, whether or not its George in this case, is torn up about the titular characters abandonment. As the music drops out, she sings, I think Ill spend eternity in the city and you feel that shell be the alone as she wanders the city looking for love for the rest of her life. George and Kurstins voices come together to bring a level of poignancy to the tale.
Of course, this album is all about Hall and Oates, so the cheekiness is still there. Listen to I Cant Go For That and try to resist clapping or moving your shoulders. The track, as is the case for most of their covers, is a softened version of the original and relies heavily on Georges soft vocals. Shes almost kittenish without being too passive. George is in control at all times, so her confession that shell do anything that you want her to rings as sarcastic as it does authentic. Unless youre a very young or sheltered music fan, you know this song, and the fun of the original bleeds into this one. George and Kurstin must have realized that keeping this song close to its original form was the smartest move because a drastic reinterpretation would only mind you how solidand Ill stand by that assertionthe original was.
The original track that opens the album has George recalling a song she heard on the radio and how it makes her think of you in those summer days. The Bird and The Bee are giving their mission: a love letter to Daryl Hall and John Oates. That you can make it through the album without laughing at them is an accomplishment. Yet, the real triumph is that they take songs (or guilty pleasures to some) we already know and transform them from fun to interesting. Add to that their ease on the ears and you have a shockingly good album that hopefully finds an audience beyond those listeners looking for an irony.