Approaching a collection of covers by any artist at the best of times can cause mixed feelings of curiosity and trepidation. Cringe worthy swing albums by ex-boy banders and love albums by aging crooners have tarnished the validity of paying homage to other artists in this way. Just when you have cast the concept aside it seems that Macy Gray has broken the cover album curse. Just like singer herself, the song selections here are random and colourful.
Her re-working of the Eurythmics ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ sets the tone, a sombre affair with synth based electronic production and quivering vocals that project a palpable pain. It is also a rare example of how tweaking the tempo and sound during production can actually change the context of the lyrics. Dark shadows also hang over Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, a respectful reinterpretation of the national anthem for outsiders everywhere that conveys an honest connection to the song. Elsewhere Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters” is another shining moment. Turning a classic moody rock ballad into a slice of contemporary soul is no mean feat, but here Macy achieves it in fine style, while the tongue in cheek take on of My Chemical Romance’s ‘Teenagers’ is both clever and hilarious in equal measure.
It doesn’t all work so well. The mash up of Kanye West’s ‘Love Lockdown and Nina Simone’s ‘Buck’ automatically creates expectations of greatness but misses the mark with tuneless, one note verses. Not even a catchy chorus and great production can elevate this above the mediocre. The sweet enthusiasm of the Arcade Fire standard ‘Wake Up’ is truly joyful but verges on becoming just too corny.
Overall, though, what makes Covered unique is the diversity of the song collection. There are some genuinely out of the box choices here which may well expose Gray to a whole new audience a decade after her phenomenal debut album ‘On How Life Is’. Fear not, this is not an aging artist’s desperate ploy by to remain relevant. Far from a disaster, Gray mixes her oddball originality with a pick and mix of genre defying tunes and if an unexpected smash hit arise from it, it would be a happy coincidence.