‘Tuned In’ review: Susanna Hoffs needs no help under the covers

'Under the Covers Vol. 3' by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs

"Under the Covers Vol. 3" by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs

Susanna Hoffs should go it alone.

The Bangles singer has been teaming up with Matthew Sweet – informally they are “Sid and Susie” – since 2006 to record albums of cover songs. The first in the “Under the Covers” collection spotlighted songs from the 1960s, the second took on the 1970s, and now the latest primarily features revamped material from the 1980s.

Hoffs and Sweet take turns at lead vocals, and in almost every case on “Vol. 3,” her songs are better than his.

Her vocals grace a more diverse collection of tracks, and her delivery is likewise varied.

Sweet, who generally fronts songs more focused on jangly arrangements than vocals, sings with an oddly modulated voice that barely changes from track to track. That works well enough for his renditions of The English Beat’s “Save It for Later,” The Bongos’ “The Bulrushes” and Echo and The Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon.” But it’s inappropriately detached on Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” off-target on R.E.M.’s “Sitting Still” and blasphemously flaccid for The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?”

By contrast, Hoffs employs softness for the Pretenders’ “Kid,” ethereal sensuality for Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” rockish textures for The Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” and surprising range for a lush take on Lindsey Buckingham’s “Trouble.” She’s also a natural fit for Kirsty MacColl/Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” and Elvis Costello/Dave Ed-munds’ “Girls Talk.”

Instrumentally, the cover songs stick close to the originals, making the new vocals the primary distinction from the source material. So there doesn’t seem to be much point to what Sweet is doing.

What’s more, Sweet and Hoffs don’t play particularly well off each other (when one sings lead, the other sings backing), so there’s not much chemistry.

Hoffs might want to think about this as she looks over her favorite songs from the 1990s.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)

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