When an artist you have followed and admired for nearly 20 years pops up with a cover album, initially I have pangs of excitement tinged with mild disappointment because I want original material. However with Bic Runga’s new album with 2 new songs and 10 covers, this album feels utterly fresh as I only knew of two tracks previously. So with that disclaimer out the way – I can’t compare like for like but instead review the album as its own entity.
Bic Runga’s opener is the dramatic mild psyche-rocker “Close Your Eyes” that harks back to the swinging 60’s. It channels a power, pace and poise she hasn’t pushed for a while and it’s a welcome return to something more darker which she began circling back to in parts of Belle, her last record. It’s no coincidence that it’s the same producer from Belle and the influence shows. Here Bic’s palette is significantly expanded with funky bass and synths and nowhere is it more apparent than “What cha Say”where sharp disco interludes over tight hissy cymbals intersperse electric piano rock. There’s no filler as you push through each album as the album is compressed not just in time and arrangement but also in production. At times it can feel that instruments have been undersampled in the recording but as an overall sound it gives the album a distinct feel and flavour. “Wolves” is an unlikely Kayne West cover and its sultry midnight blues pop rendition is electric and beautiful. The spooky keyboards at a mystical atmosphere and channels a unique cover of a song originally made a world away from this sound. The transition to the mellow tones infused in “Things Behind the Sun” is simple and cute as the track reminds me of The Carpenters in many ways. It’s probably Bic Runga’s voice is so clear-cut and hits all the notes with such ease, it’s like she is caressing your ears and soothing them.
Continuing the palette expansion is the disco rock “Tinsel Town In The Rain” that channels something you’d expect from early Natalie Imbruglia. It’s funky and the synth arrangement drowns the bass and to make the choruses feel elevated and extra dramatic. It’s also one of the few times in the album where Bic really belts it out and it comes together perfectly. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in juxtaposition is minimal with drums, bass, organ and voice for the majority of the track. It’s a lovely performance slightly marred by the fact the bass is peaking in my opinion in the mix and causes distortion. There’s a few points in the album where the production direction is rough but here’s really where it distracts me. “Andmoreagain” continues the bluesy rock that her previous live album imbues so well, as does “Viens” where Runga’s penchant for French lyrics come in with a French cover. Her ability to enchant in multiple languages is a still and a gift.
The second original song is another classic. “Dream A Dream” is everything smoky enchantress rock folk rock should be. It carries a mystique in the chord patterns and it’s organic yet catchy arrangement and riffs seal it as a new favourite. Interestingly “The Lonely Sea” is more soundscape driven with the sea ever-present in the background and the rest of the instruments echoing through the waves in a Mermaid like trance. It’s cosy but also a tinge of creepy too as the muffled backing vocals delightfully sea shanty the title over and over like a sirens call. “Life Will Get Better Some Day” is a short acoustic piece before the mo-town light “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” rounds off the album in a sensual and warm fashion.
I love that this album has seen Bic Runga expand on some of the synth work and song palette. She’s trying new things and they all work a charm. Personally, I feel the album suffers slightly because of a rough peaks in the bass and bass drum that distort the recordings in places. It’s a minor quibble though on what has to be the most leanest album I’ve experienced in a while. I wanted more. I wanted outros. I wanted intros. I wanted space to breathe. Close Your Eyes is not interested in that though and instead delivers a fat-free album of classy renditions that you’ll have on repeat. No mayo!
Recommended Track : Close Your Eyes