Spygenius – Blow Their Covers
Canterbury’s own Spygenius return with a new fourteen song cover versions set drawn from the band’s favourite tunes across the years. On the way through Blow Their Covers they dip into the songbooks of The Beatles, Squeeze and Monkees, along with delves into lesser-known acts’ lockers. Ian Canty pulls up the collar of his mac and goes deep undercover…
After releasing the fabulous Man On The Sea album (reviewed here) just over a year ago, Canterbury’s neo-psych popsters Spygenius are back with their own unique take on some well-known and obscure tunes entitled Blow Their Covers. The four piece of singer/guitarist Peter Watts, a rhythm section of Alan Cannings and Ruth Rogers and keyboardist Matt Byrne work through fourteen examples of other writers’ works with the same panache that was lucidly apparent on their previous long player. Unsurprisingly, given the band’s firm pop sike leanings, they tap a fair bit into the swinging 1960s for the base material on this record. For instance, The Beatles’ archive is raided, but never being ones to take a simple root The Spys do so with Step Inside Love, a song made famous by Cavern Club coat room attendant/tv show host Cilla Black.
But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. Blow Their Covers sets forth with a version of the Traffic song Paper Sun, which segues into the Mann and Weil number Love Is Only Sleeping. A driving and delightfully arranged take of the Mason/Winwood chestnut combines well the latter melody, which was mooted as a Monkees’ single before finding a home on their Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd album. The splicing of these two provides a suitably dynamic introduction to the LP. The solid start is built on by a stirring Therapy, a song from Big Stir labelmates Plasticsoul that is enhanced by some top notch guitar jangle.
The speedy, swooping intro to Come On Home, written by Hampstead’s Tom Springfield, is the preface to an action packed rock & roller and Griselda follows in a much more folkie mode. This tune was originally recorded by The Unholy Modal Rounders and also covered later on by Yo La Tengo. I’ve always been a big fan of Squeeze so I was interested to hear what Spygenius made of Is That Love?, the first single extracted from their 1981 East Side Story collection. What they come up with here is a reasonable faithful version, one that retains the fresh thrust of the original, but crucially adds some soul-style organ and a sweet harmony vocal coda to set it apart from being a mere re-tread.
Led by Bob Kelly, London trio Kelly’s Heels provide The Spys with Please Stop Talking. This number is full of bright and breezy attack, which hopefully should send listeners off in search of the band that originally recorded it (a good place to start is their website, which can be located here). The Monkees’ oeuvre provides us with a groovy and purposeful For Pete’s Sake, before Murrumbridge Whalers, which is well done and focuses in on the same folk/sea shanty area as the band did on their Man On The Sea LP.
Spygenius pay a fitting tribute to the late Matthew Seligman with a cool take of Robyn Hitchcock And The Egpytians’ Queen Of Eyes, imbuing the song with true warmth. Then it is time for the epic jazz pop-tinged repositioning of Step Inside Love, with some fierce guitar licks applied to the chorus. This works very well and is a typical Spygenius touch. The Buffalo Springfield/ Stephen Stills song Rock & Roll Woman is given a bright refit and Blow Their Covers ends with the band covering the Madness single that was a long way from their “jolly jesters” nutty boys image (and the better for it) Michael Caine. It’s a louche, sleepy, but inspired reading and possible the most radical reworking on Blow Their Covers. Even so, this approach really fits in well with the downbeat espionage-themed source material, the LP’s concept/title and even the Spygenius name.
The cover version album was something that was done almost to death in the early years of the 21st century, but perhaps with the advent of Blow Their Covers it is time to give these kind of collections a fresh look. Here Spygenius apply their imagination and invention to other people’s songs in such an accomplished and nuanced way, which means even the more well-worn items get reshaped into something new. They do this by retaining the elements that made the original in the first place, but also stamping it with the band’s own personality and quirks. What the Spys turn out is always accessible, but they also are able to throw the listener off balance with the fine detail and their offbeat way with a tune. This album is great fun and successfully whetted my appetite for new material of their own, which hopefully isn’t too far off in the future. But even not taking that into account, Blow Their Covers is a delight.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here