With Bright Lights, Susanna Hoffs continues to have some of the sharpest instincts in pop music.
A pop classicist of the highest order, Susanna Hoffs has demonstrated her facility with cover songs from the very beginnings of her career. “Hazy Shade of Winter” and “If She Knew What She Wants” were two of the strongest singles of The Bangles’ commercial heyday, while lovely renditions of “All I Want” and “To Sir, With Love” are highlights of her under-appreciated solo career. More recently, Hoffs partnered with Matthew Sweet for a series of well-regarded covers albums that showcased her thoughtful interpretations of standards like “Maggie May” and “Different Drum.” While it’s tempting to wish that Hoffs would offer a new collection of original tunes or team back up with the Peterson sisters for another Bangles record, that she’s released her first full covers album as a solo artist is hardly an unwelcome move.
Bright Lights is a cohesive set of emotionally dense material that pays homage to what she and her friend, the late David Roback (of Mazzy Star), listened to in their formative years. That angle is given further weight by the fact that so many of the original artists represented — like Nick Drake, Chris Bell, and Prince — died relatively young or, like the Velvet Underground and Emitt Rhodes, had very small but impactful catalogs. Hoffs is in fantastic voice throughout the album, capably managing the rangy melody of “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” putting her natural rasp to fantastic use on the harder-edged “Time Will Show the Wiser,” and conveying a youthful playfulness on “You May Just Be the One.” Producer Paul Bryan keeps a light hand at the mixing board: The relatively lo-fi arrangements of Bright Lights are a far cry from Different Light, but they’re well-matched to Hoffs’ unfussy performances. Always an empathetic vocalist, Hoffs digs into the complexities of “Him or Me – What’s it Gonna Be?” and “Take Me With U” with a conversational sense of phrasing that isn’t beholden to the original versions but also isn’t over-reaching in an attempt to offer entirely new interpretations. What Bright Lights reaffirms, then, is that Hoffs has some of the sharpest instincts in pop music, both in terms of choosing quality material and in knowing how that material plays to her own strengths.
Published as part of Album Roundup — November 2021 | Part 3.