Mandy Moore, despite her onetime status as a blond, has never marched to the same drummer as her teen pop princess contemporaries. She’s never had a video that required editing in order to be TRL-friendly, like Christina. She doesn’t talk about her sex life, or allude to her sex life, or play dumb about her sex life, like Britney. She doesn’t flaunt her body on the red carpet like Jessica. Even her early albums, candy-coated enough to appeal to pre-teens, didn’t fit into the coy panting and moaning mold of everyone else.
Her new album, Coverage, is further proof that Moore has been improperly categorized. Full of cover songs harkening back to the late 60s, 70s and early 80s, Moore told her record company to take a flying leap, and fought to produce the album that she wanted. The results on Coverage are mature and at times stunning, and will go a long way toward releasing her from her teen pop bonds.
Coverage features classics that should be familiar to most music-lovers pushing into their 30s, like Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” or Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move.” It’s also got lesser-known gems like Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Madhatters” or Joan Armatrading’s “Drop the Pilot.” Each song is lovingly orchestrated by producer John Fields, so that it retains both the integrity of the original songs (some might call these karaoke versions, but I disagree) as well as the spirit of Mandy Moore’s youth. Is she old enough to know about crushing heartbreak or strong enough to invite someone to let her shoulder their burdens? Maybe not, but she’s brave enough to try to understand the sentiment.
A couple of standouts are Moore’s versions of XTC’s “Senses Working Overtime” and The Waterboys’ “Whole of the Moon.” I’ll admit to being a big fan of both of these songs pre-cover, “Whole of the Moon” being one of those songs that always makes my chest clench. Moore has more than enough spunkiness to pull off the nonsensical “Senses” and just enough soul to pull off the ballad. The first single, “Have A Little Faith in Me,” is a spot-on cover of a John Hiatt song that has been done over and over – you would think to death, except that Moore has managed to mold it to her voice in exactly the right way. Even “One Way Or Another,” a song so closely tied to Blondie that it might be sacrilege to cover it, manages to fit right into Moore’s Coverage experiment.
Coverage gets better with each listen, but the album is not perfect. Moore has a less pliable voice than, say, Christina, and her vocals on several of the songs resemble each other closely. At times she reaches deep into her lower register and almost bottoms out. This is especially prevalent on “I Feel the Earth Move” and Joe Jackson’s “Breaking Us in Two.” And, sometimes, the orchestration is almost overpowering in its earnestness. Moore makes up for these things, though, by attacking the songs where she knows she can and backing off where she knows she hasn’t got a prayer.
Releasing an album without the support of your record label (they wanted her to work with Britney’s songwriters) was brave, but Moore also risked putting off her core fan base, who are constantly tempted with the Avrils and Simple Plans ruling Radio Disney these days. In fact, she posted on her own official message board that she hoped fans would stick with her, but wasn’t going to continue putting out music she didn’t like, to appease them. She later told Maxim Blender that she wanted to refund the $15.99 to every fan who bought her bubblegum first album. That’s pretty grown up for age 19.
While she’s probably not going to break any records for album sales with Coverage, Moore does have a great opportunity to forge a new, mature mold for herself. And she seems determined to do it, consequences be damned.