Susanna Hoffs, ‘The Deep End': Album Review
Susanna Hoffs has created plenty of original music, most notably with the Bangles. But she's no stranger to covers either. Some might remember a version of the Lightning Seeds' "All I Want" from her second solo album, or Hoffs taking on Oingo Boingo's "We Close Our Eyes" or Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love" for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, respectively. And then
there was her Under the Covers series with Matthew Sweet, three decade-specific volumes of songs from the '60s, '70s and '80s under the monikers Sid 'n Susie.
She's back under the covers for The Deep End, a 13-song set that spans the decades and serves as a companion of sorts to her debut novel, This Bird Has Flown, which is already earmarked for a movie adaptation. This latest trip into others' songs is yet another delight, a demonstration of good taste and guts with Hoffs sounding as beguiling as she did lighting "Eternal Flame" or having a "Manic Monday" more than 30 years ago.
Her range is particularly impressive on The Deep End, running from Moody Blues and Wings co-founder Denny Laine's 1967 solo single "If You've Got a Problem" to the title track, which Holly Humberstone released in 2022. Along the way, Hoffs and a talented crew of helpers - legendary producer Peter Asher, for starters, plus members of Elvis Costello's Imposters, Ledisi, Albert Lee and session vets Waddy Wachtel, Leland Sklar, Russell Kunkel and Dan Dugmore - opens its arms wide, from Leslie Gore and the Rolling Stones to Ed Sheeran to Billie Eilish and even a little bit of pedal steel-flavored country via Brandy Clark's "Pawn Shop." It's anything but disparate, however; Asher and Hoffs craft cohesion by keeping plenty of sonic space around her vocals while at the same time enveloping that ambience with strings and unfussy arrangements that let the material breathe not unlike a pop diva record circa 1966.
There's a lushness that's implied but still plenty of room for these treatments to breathe.
Hoffs plants her flag in the ground from the get-go, turning the Stones' "Under My Thumb" into a Motown-flavored pop epic whose strings and vibraphone create a shimmer that counters the tune's dark put down. You can't help but smile hearing Hoffs singing about "a squirming dog who's just had his day," making the insult seem all the more wicked with her sweet, pristine tones. And The Deep End goes from there. Hoffs handles the soulful, quasi-Bacharach-David rendition of Joy Oladokun's "If You've Got a Problem" as convincingly as she does the torchy grandeur of Leslie Gore's "You Don't Own Me." And she knows how to tuck into a meaty melody when she finds it, best demonstrated on Phantom Planet's "Time Moves On," Coconut Records' "West Coast," Dodie's "Would You Be So Kind" and "Say You Don't Mind."
The slightly fuller rendition of Sheeran's "Afterglow" is a testament to his inherent songcraft as well as Hoffs' interpretive skills, and she stays largely faithful, melodically, to Squeeze's "Black Coffee in Bed" within the arrangement's lighter and more spacious tone. And Yazoo's "Only You" neatly straddles a line between organic and synthetic to bring The Deep End to a close. All of this, mind you, is tucked into a very listenable 47 minutes, referencing an old-school pop album that happens to be filled with proven material and buoyed by a singer who's unafraid to tackle all of it.