I know. You’re confused. Yes, this is a Mandy Moore review and no, this isn’t Seventeen Magazine or YM, for that matter. And as weird as you feel reading this, I feel even weirder writing it.
But that’s just where the strangeness begins. Mandy’s new album, Coverage, is a bizarre and random collection of covers by artists like XTC, Blondie, Elton John, Cat Stevens, the Waterboys, etc. Moreover, the album is both hyper-produced by Jon Fields, the same “dude” that brought to you the Andrew WK beer keg experience, and proudly claims an Evan Dando cameo.
[I’m completely serious]
All this should really culminate into one big Moore mess that sends purists running to the bathroom vomiting all over their copy of Teen Beat. And how many wish that this was true, that Mandy had indeed made a total ass of herself.
But surprise—it’s quite good.
The first song, “Senses Working Overtime,” a pretty odd and brave song to start off with, has the winning charm of a lost Hanson session–which is a good thing. That XTC tune even comes complete (as her website brags) with “modern DJ scratches” (I wasn’t aware of “ancient DJ scratches”) and wedding cake-layered harmonies. Then the album makes a seamless transition into the record's best track; the Waterboys' "Whole of the Moon," terrific fodder for a romantic-comedy soundtrack. I can imagine Kate Beckinsale dancing in the rain looking for her lost love while Mandy sings in the background "I saw the rain-dirty valley/You saw brigadoon/I saw the crescent/You saw the whole of the moon!"
In an interview, appropriately enough, in Interview Magazine, Moore insists she picked the songs all by herself like a big girl. This is the stuff "people have been getting [her] into recently and [she] wants to spread it around" sort of like a disease. And while a majority of her favorites are chart hits by their respective original artists, a choice like "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters" makes it all worthwhile. This Elton John classic is perhaps one of his most overlooked and, thankfully for Moore, also not a cover of "Tiny Dancer" (shame on you, Ben Folds!).
Most importantly, though, the implications of this album are significantly more impressive than the actual music itself and that boldness should not be overlooked. Moore, while trying to maintain relevance and growing up in the spotlight, i.e. hitting puberty, is also trying to bring her audience along with her on the road to integrity. She is unabashedly saying, hey guys (insert Mandy Moore Giggle (TM) right about here) there was music before 1997 and it's pretty damn good. Justin Timberlake has subtly hinted at this idea with Justified, an album of near-covers (Stevie Wonder? Michael Jackson? Is that you?) but he never blatantly declared it. And Timberlake could also never get away with using a xylophone as Moore does in her treatment of Joe Jackson's "Breaking Us In Two."
But, one could ask, how does Coverage differ from, say, Britney's cover of "Satisfaction' or for that matter, Christina's new image overhaul which is very adult, as in Cinemax-late-night-adult?
Easy. Moore's music is not ugly, for one, and it's also not like watching a violent New Jersey Turnpike car crash into a pathetic Tiffany-like obscurity. This is Mandy validating herself to the gods of Where Are They Now, successfully so. Coverage is a sincere homage, her way of showing appreciation for a glorious back catalogue of never-ending pop ingenuity.
Truthfully, Mandy is also much easier to like. To quote a slightly fey friend of mine, "she is and always will be a treat." And after listening to this refreshingly guilty pleasure, I couldn't agree Moore.