Macy Gray has apparently been listening to rock radio over the decade or so since her breakout R&B-soaked hit “I Try.” Her new album of reinterpretations, simply called Covered, is dotted with songs from the likes of Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Sublime and My Chemical Romance.
What holds them together, Gray says, is the sense that they are all “I-wanna-slit-my-wrists-but-I-love-you songs,” and thus — in their way — perfectly suited for her darkly expressive rasp. Working with producer Hal Willner (Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, Laurie Anderson), Gray folds her arms around these lyrics and then holds on so tight that it’s like they were hers all along.
Of course, she’s been doing Radiohead’s emotionally bracing “Creep” as part of her concert sets for some time, but there are also fresh surprises galore on Covered, due March 27 from 429 Records. That starts with My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers,” which finds Gray deliciously inverting the familiar lyric so that it’s presented from the point of view of the mother of that angry adolescent. She adds an undulating African-inspired percussion to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” and a reggae lilt to “Two Joints,” which was memorably covered by Sublime.
Elsewhere, she’s just as apt to cover the Eurythmics (“Here Comes the Rain Again,” given an unguarded new reading) as she is Metallica (“Nothing Else Matters,” where a stark vulnerability surrounds the lyric: “so close, no matter how far”) as she is Kayne West (“Love Lockdown,” which has an new warmth away from its original synthesized construction).
A series of short skits featuring the likes of J.B. Smoove and Nicole Scherzinger, so common on hip hip projects of two decades ago, unfortunately end up working more as thematic speed bumps. Skip past those, however, and Covered holds together quite well. In fact, it’s just as weirdly interesting, and compelling offbeat, as the original compositions that have sold more than 25 million albums for Gray, garnering her multiple Grammys and MTV awards.
They may not be her words, but they end up feeling just like originals.