If there’s anything to be said about the Bird and the Bee, it’s that they certainly are aware of their aesthetic and they play to it with great aplomb. If the success of the group’s pairing of said vision with the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever classic “How Deep Is Your Love” is any indication, it’s little wonder the group has chosen to record an entire album of covers. Having already exploited the blue-eyed soul of the disco era, it seems only natural that the Los Angeles duo would focus next on the “rock ‘n soul” of Daryl Hall & John Oates with Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates (Blue Note).
Hall & Oates are experiencing a sort of renaissance these days, cherished by the middle-aged hipsters that grew up with the band’s music as a backdrop. Fans of Hall’s online series Live From Daryl’s House are already accustomed to hearing contemporary artists put their spin on Hall & Oates classics. The results vary as wildly as you would imagine, with guests ranging from the legendary Smokey Robinson to Chromeo, but more often than not, the common ground that’s found playing the H&O songbook is where the magic happens.
But we already know those songs, so let’s focus first on Interpreting the Masters‘s lone original track, “Heard It on the Radio.” In the context of the album, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume it was another cover. The Hall & Oates feel is there, complete with references to “Kiss on My List” and choppy guitar stabs (granted, it’s more likely a “guitar” keyboard patch). I can definitely see this track taking up residence on many a summer mixtape.
The rest of the tracks are basically a greatest-hits collection from Hall & Oates’s heyday. From “Sara Smile” to “Private Eyes,” the hits are a good representation of the pop side of the group’s catalog. Shirley Manson, of the too-long-absent Garbage, provides the Oates portion of the vocal duties on “Maneater,” which is just as insanely catchy as the original. “One on One” is transformed into the tender ballad it so desperately wanted to be. “Kiss on My List” is the most straightforward cover of the bunch, with Inara George adapting perfectly to Hall’s soulful range.
Detractors and purists will likely point to the distinct lack of soul in the electropop leanings and sterile production. I’d point to ‘80s classics such as “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” which is based entirely off a preset keyboard drum loop, for those who can’t find the connection. The soul lies in the performance and the songs themselves and makes you wonder: who will the Bird and the Bee take on next?