Despite writing about music on a semi-regular basis, I sometimes know far less about new artists than I probably should. I mean, there’s so much going on, it’s difficult to keep track and despite mounting evidence to the contrary, I do try to fit in having a life somewhere along the line.
All this means that until very recently, I knew next to nothing about LA synth duo, The Bird and The Bee. They’ve only just come to my attention due to the release of their new album, Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. Although in the UK these days they’re only marginally more fashionable than Gary Glitter, Hall and Oates have had a string of hit albums and singles since the late 1970s and have enjoyed a huge amount of success in the USA during their career.
Now it’s time to express some sort of bias. It’s difficult to express an objective opinion on an act whose music you practically grew up with, and as a wee bairn, Hall and Oates were my Dad’s favourite musical act. Actually, they still are - I can probably recite the lyrics to I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) in my sleep, though that doesn’t appear to be an award-winning party piece, unfortunately.
As you’ve probably deduced, The Bird and The Bee’s new album, ITMV1, is primarily made up of Hall and Oates songs; 8 of the 9 tracks are covers and the only original composition is said to be inspired by the Philadelphia pair. Covers albums are always a tricky proposition - what way do you go? Stray too far from the text and it could be construed as some sort of heresy, especially amongst die-hard fans. Stick like glue to the parent track and it’s difficult to see the point.
The Bird and The Bee seem to have settled for the worst of both worlds. It’s a given that the melodies and lyrics are going to be the same, but many of the rhythms, hooks and fills are lifted directly from the originals as well. However, The Bird and The Bee are heavy on the electronica, so there are synths and squelches in abundance. There are also the vocals of “The Bird”, Inara George, whose casual approach to emotion and depth is reminiscent of the Gallic insouciance that turns up on Nouvelle Vague tracks.
Nouvelle Vague are actually a good reference point, as they take well-loved songs and force them through their continental bossa nova filter. They may be not to everyone’s taste, but they strive to capture what makes the song work in the first place; something that, on this evidence, The Bird and The Bee miss altogether. A dark and robotic approach can be fine on its day, but these arrangements are completely lacking in warmth and when you’re tackling the back catalogue of a band such as Hall and Oates, it’s like mixing jam and cheese.
In simple terms, the beauty of Hall and Oates’ work is in what they themselves call, rock n’ soul. Sadly, The Bird and The Bee certainly don’t rock and they’ve taken it upon themselves to take every ounce of soul out of their subject matter. When it does come close to working, such as on Private Eyes, it still doesn’t compare to the original. Rather worryingly, the title of the album implies there may be an episode of Interpreting the Masters Volume 2... on the horizon.
In a sense, it’s admirable that The Bird and The Bee haven’t fallen into the all-too-easy trap of making a direct copy, but in removing all the heart out of these songs, they seem to have missed the point entirely. So, really, why bother? Whether it’s a stop-gap to mask a temporary lack of inspiration on an attempt at a genuine homage, it unfortunately adds nothing to the pantheon of popular music and only serves to showcase to the world that The Bird and The Bee can’t hold a candle to those they cite as inspirations.