Covers Collection consists of self-indulgent acoustic covers that barely rise above the quality of an open-mic at a coffee shop.
For an artist, covering a song could just be a lark, a way to have some fun. For a listener, though, hearing a cover tells us something about the artist who plays it. A cover song could reveal influences, offer insight into how much of a student of pop music the artist is, and a great cover song could reveal aspects of a song that no one had ever considered before. Essentially, an artist is revealing something about themselves when playing someone else’s music, whether they intend to do so or not. There is no such thing, then, as a meaningless cover. Thus, what Pop Etc. have managed to put together with this collection of cover songs is actually pretty impressive, from a certain perspective: they’ve presented 21 cover songs that mean absolutely nothing.
Covers Collection amasses recordings from just about the entirety of Pop Etc.’s run as a band, but it curiously avoids playing as a chronological compilation. Instead, the band choose to present the collection as an album, which leads to some jarring moments as these songs were not all recorded to completion. Demos and practice takes are placed side-by-side with more finished, full-band recordings, and one is expected to take them all the same. About half of Covers Collection consists of self-indulgent acoustic covers that barely rise above the quality of an open-mic at a coffee shop. The sincere-yet-soulless take on Sam Cooke’s “It’s All Right” is probably the worst offender in that regard: not only is it ample evidence that people should never cover Cooke’s songs again, but Chris Chu’s attempts at a loose, improvised vocal melody invite unkind comparisons Jack Johnson and his ilk. Things don’t get much better as the album goes on: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” loses the despair of the original, and the rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” suffers from Chu not quite being able to sing the vocal melody.
When the full band is assembled, the songs are incrementally better, but the arrangements can be baffling at times. The Strokes’ “Last Nite” is recast as a lush pop ballad dripping with synths and electronic drums, which is interesting to hear the first time but not much further than that. However, a spare, moody take on ELO’s “Strange Magic” oddly works brilliantly and is easily the best song on the whole album. And recasting “Follow You Down” by the Gin Blossoms as a lo-fi Cars tribute is actually kind of inspired. But that’s the give and take with Covers Collection that makes it such an infuriating listen: for every moment of promise, there’s an equally boneheaded cover selection or limp performance that will inevitably follow.
As much as Pop Etc. tried to frame this like one, Covers Collection is not really an album, nor should it have been presented as a proper album to begin with. Collections like these end up becoming oddities that tend to interest die-hards more than the general listening public, but even die-hard fans might find some slim pickings here. Half of this album sounds like it wasn’t meant to be released to the public in the first place, and the other half will just make you seek out the better versions of all the songs presented here. There’s not much to glean from Covers Collection other than that maybe the members of Pop Etc. had a pretty middle-of-the-road record collection growing up. Hell, there’s not even much here to get especially angry about if one is a fan of one of the artists covered here. There’s just nothing to Covers Collection, so much so that it may as well not exist.