First Impressions: The Deep End by Susanna Hoffs

An album. A book. The first is expected, the second not so much. While both iconic and non-iconic musicians lay bare their lives via memoirs (or at least speak them into a tape recorder for others to transcribe and edit), few choose to write novels. As a result, I hope to delve into the prose of Susanna Hoffs’ This Bird Has Flown at some point in the future, but my life is hectic at present—new house, new move, and preparations for both leaving little time for much else when one adds my job into the mix. Oh, and did I mention friends from up north arrived for a week-long visit Friday afternoon? Carving out time to listen and write, let alone read, is near impossible right now. 

And, yet, here I am, after a day and a half of listening to The Deep End in the wild—and by that I mean in my Mazda3 time machine as I travel hither and yon while, at times, other people are in the car. As with her last release and the three Sid & Susie volumes, it’s an all-covers affair. This time out, however, she partially flips the script by digging into the rhythms and rhymes of relatively recent songs alongside a smattering of past classics. The Stones, Squeeze and Lesley Gore covers should be known to most, I think, while those of us who tuned into MTV in the early 1980s should recognize Yazoo’s “Only You,” too. Of the newer songs, which I consider anything post-2000, some are from artists whose works I should know (Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish) but don’t, while others (Joy Oladokun) are from artists I do know but others may not.

The album opens with a re-do of the Rolling Stone’s “Under My Thumb” that trades the misogyny for playfulness. “I think I like this more than the original,” our friend Luanne said yesterday while we were on the road. It’s quite fun, especially when the reference to a Siamese cat is followed by a “meow.” The meditative title track is one of the new-to-me songs that, when I have time, will have me digging into the oeuvre of British singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone, who released it as a single in 2020. (I just listened to that version on YouTube and, wow. Just wow.)

Joy Oladokun’s empathetic “If You’ve Got a Problem” is equally sublime and, along with “Deep End,” could well be my favorite of the newer songs; of course, I’m the most familiar with it, as I played its album home (In Defense of My Own Happiness) a fair bit in 2021. Ed Sheeran’s “Afterglow” is sweet but won’t send me spinning his discs (real or virtual) anytime soon. (No offense, Ed!) Phantom Planet’s “Time Moves On” is also new to me; along with former Phantom Planet drummer Jason Schwartzman’s “West Coast,” it’s a cool listen. Both sport a mid-’60s feel.

“Say You Don’t Mind” began life as a single in 1967 from Denny Laine’s short-lived Electric String Band, but achieved a modicum of popularity in 1972 when ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone scored a Top 20 U.K. hit with it. (Laine, for those not in the know, was in the Moody Blues and later Wings; somewhere I have a bootleg of Wings circa 1972 or ‘73 that features their spin on this song.) The version of Squeeze’s “Black Coffee in Bed” shimmers like a vision from a parallel universe where the Difford, Hoffs & Tilbrook trio ruled the charts in the mid-1980s with sweet pop confections.

The Dodie and Eilish songs are enjoyable, but won’t send me scurrying through the digital aisles for the originals. The same’s true of “Pawn Shop” by Brandy Clark, who won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2015. Lesley Gore’s much-covered “You Don’t Own Me” is, as always, a strong declaration of independence—but it’s hard for me to hear any version and not think of Joan Jett’s, which remains to my ears the definitive cover. Yazoo’s “Only You” closes the album in great form. 

Overall, the album is an enjoyable collection that serves as a sweet love letter to Terpsichore. Not every track is transcendent, but that’s okay. It’s a fun and worthwhile listen that, in the months and years to come, I’ll credit for turning me onto Holly Humberstone.

Here’s the track listing with the original artist in parentheses:

1. Under My Thumb (The Rolling Stones)
2. Deep End (Holly Humberstone)
3. If You’ve Got a Problem (Joy Oladokun)
4. Afterglow (Ed Sheeran)
5. Time Moves On (Phantom Planet)
6. Say You Don’t Mind (Denny Laine)
7. Black Coffee in Bed (Squeeze)
8. West Coast (Jason Schwartzman)
9. Would You Be So Kind (Dodie)
10. When the Party’s Over (Billie Eilish)
11. Pawn Shop (Brandy Clark)
12. You Don’t Own Me (Leslie Gore)
13. Only You (Yazoo)

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