There is a fine line between covering a song and replicating it. The former involves a band reinventing a song to appeal to old and new audiences alike. The latter is something better left for cover bands and intoxicated karaoke singers.
“Sweetheart 2014” rides this line with the teetering overconfidence of a freshman at Shooters. This is an album that desperately doles out wannabe hits, while at the same time, struggling to hide the lack of innovation that lies just beneath the surface.
This Starbucks compilation album, which includes covers of love songs by Willie Nelson, Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Wonder, to name a few, starts off with confidence. Jim James of My Morning Jacket hits all the right notes in his cover of Bob Marley’s 'Turn the Lights Down Low.' By taking the classic reggae groove and updating it to a more distant, but silky, indie rock feel, James brings his signature tone and style to a classic song.
But by the second song, an uncertain and awkward Vampire Weekend cover of the classic 'Con Te Partiro' made famous by the great tenor Andrea Bocelli, “Sweetheart 2014” starts to stumble. After covering 'Blurred Lines' with what could have won the award for the Most Cringeworthy Rapping of 2013, Vampire Weekend proves again that their distinct style is better left to their original music.
Fortunately though, most of the album stays at an above-average level. The Head and the Heart play a faithful cover of Harry Nilsson’s 'Don’t Forget Me.' But, like too many other songs on this album, they decided against bringing in any new elements, even eschewing the thick, folksy harmony that made the Seattle band so popular. The failure of “covering” a song instead of simply duplicating it plagues the entire album. For example, Brandi Carlile is vocally stunning for Fleetwood Mac’s 'The Chain,' but considering how little she added to the instrumentation, she may as well have been singing over the band’s original backing track.
On the other hand, Bahamas does a splendidly somber and hauntingly beautiful cover of Willie Nelson’s 'Always On My Mind,' reinventing the original for a new generation of distraught lovers. Sharon Jones, hot off of her new album, closes the album with a soulful, passionate punch, singing Stevie Wonder’s 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered' as if it were her own.
I am conflicted about "Sweetheart 2014." On first listen, it seems like a great way to introduce these songs to a new audience. But soon enough, it is clear that only a few great songs dominate this record to keep it above mediocrity.