MATT KELLY kicks off his epic new series with his review of an album of oddball Van Halen interpretations that really sucks the big one.
1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear #1
The Bird And The Bee – A Tribute To Van Halen (2019)
Not a posthumous tribute, this record was released in 2019, well before Eddie Van Halen’s 2020 death. However, it did come out shortly before he was hospitalized for throat cancer… it’s up to you to determine whether there’s a connection there.
The Bird And The Bee are a sort of modern, hipster The Captain And Tennile, making soft-rock synth-pop for the cool kids. This is the second release in their Interpreting The Masters series in which they release a full album of material by an act they respect.
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The first volume was Hall And Oates and was actually pretty decent; I quite enjoyed their rendition of ‘Kiss On My List’. However, Hall And Oates’ style is mostly in line with where The Bird And Bee were already at sonically – taking on Van Halen is much more ambitious, requiring either a big dynamic shift in The Bird And The Bee arrangements, or radically deconstructing the songs to reimagine them as something smaller and simpler.
Instead, TBATB has done neither of these things, reproducing melodic and rhythmic lines for hard-rock instrumentation with synthesizers much too thin and light to bear the weight.
The duo is clearly talented – Greg “Bear” Kurstin can certainly tinkle the ivories as witnessed by the skilful and clever way he converts Alex Van Halen’s legendary drum intro to ‘Hot For Teacher’ into a piano solo, and Inara “Bird” George has a delightful breezy voice. The problem here is the approach to the songs.
Sanitized to death, many of these could pass for parody, though I’m pretty sure TBATB are not joking. It gave me flashbacks to Pat Boone’s In A Metal Mood. Impactful, entertaining songs full of spontaneity in the original rendition are here oppressively polite and wan to the point that it becomes an endurance test – I found ‘Panama’ and ‘Jump’ in particular hard to sit through. A daring experiment, but one that does not pay off at all.