The Bird and the Bee

Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen

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There's a bit of cheek in "Interpreting the Masters," a phrase the Bird and the Bee coined for their 2009 tribute to Daryl Hall & John Oates. The expression suggested songwriters more outwardly rarified than Hall & Oates, yet it wasn't necessarily meant ironically. Through their loving covers, vocalist Inara George and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin made a case that Hall & Oates' catalog does stand on its own as a songbook. With Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: Van Halen, the duo achieve something similar yet notably different: they make one of the greatest hard rock bands go pop. Removing every trace of a guitar from the songs of Van Halen may seem a bit like a party trick, but these clever neo-new wave arrangements generally work because they're clever and affectionate. When Beck is brought in to act the role of the instructor on "Hot for Teacher," it's done with a broad wink but it's not quite mocking. It is, however, a bit precious, even twee. Certainly, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2 lacks any carnal undercurrent, a conscious decision that does tend to sap David Lee Roth's lyrics of their potency. Nevertheless, there's no question that the Bird and the Bee are firmly in Roth's camp. After all, they close their record with a torchy ode to "Diamond Dave" himself. Still, it's the very existence of Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: Van Halen that brings into sharp relief the theory that Van Halen was two halves, one belonging to the heavy musos of the Van Halen brothers and the other to the crowd-pleasing pop of Roth. Given the years of hearing the originals on classic rock radio, it's a pleasure to hear these poptastic revisions.

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