BIG STIR RECORDS and Canterbury, England's SPYGENIUS are delighted to end the year and usher in the holidays with an epic act of heartfelt musical re-gifting. SPYGENIUS BLOW THEIR COVERS, and all-new album of reimagined versions of some of the band's favorite vintage (and modern) tunes, is out on CD and all digital platforms November 26 (Black Friday) and up for pre-order at www.bigstirrecords.com
and everwhere now. It's heralded by the single “Queen Of Eyes”, a gorgeous version of the SOFT BOYS classic that nonetheless only hints at what's under the wrapping paper of SPYGENIUS BLOW THEIR COVERS.
It would be an understatement to say that SPYGENIUS as a band are riding high despite the times, with their ambitious 2020 double album MAN ON THE SEA having been declared Album of the Year at HERE COMES THE FLOOD among many other accolades. The new record is something completely different, albeit sparkling with the same heady psych-pop guitars, intricate keys and distinct harmonies that've defined the band since their inception. Here they've taken a break from crafting their own original tunes to pay tribute to their influences and even their contemporaries, and tackled an eclectic and revelatory set of covers. The chosen tunes span the full continuum of the pop-rock era, giving us a peek into their own musical influences but most importantly serving up a set that's just as sly, textured, and fun as anything the Canterbury foursome has ever recorded.
Kicking off with a medley of songs by Traffic and The Monkees, SPYGENIUS BLOW THEIR COVERS packs 14 tunes into 13 tracks. There are of course nods to the band's primary roots in the British and US '60s scene, with ace takes on Gene Clark's “So You Say You Lost Your Baby”, Buffalo Springfield's “Rock 'N' Roll Woman,” the Paul McCartney-penned “Step Inside Love” (a UK hit for Cilla Black) and yet another Monkees tune (“For Pete's Sake”). There are – perhaps unsurprisingly given the band's reputation for cheeky wit – obscure curveballs like “Griselda,” originally recorded by Michael Hurley and The Unholy Modal Rounders, and the sea shanty “Murrumbidgee Whalers”, a tune from which frontman Peter Watts' pre-Spygenius '80s band took their name and which figured subliminally in the interstitial soundscapes dotting Man On The Sea.
Tributes to the continuing heritage of literate pop-rock in the post-punk era appear as well, in the form of a cover of Squeeze's “Is That Love” and the riotously unhinged version of Madness's “Michael Caine” that closes the album. Closest to the band's heart is the Soft Boys cover, which Spygenius wear like a second skin. “You could certainly make the case that The Soft Boys, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians were undeniable ‘touch point’ groups for Spygenius,” explains Watts, “but this song is here because of the burgeoning friendship between Spygenius and (Soft Boys bassist) Matthew Seligman that was so cruelly cut short by his passing early in the COVID-19 pandemic. We miss him very deeply. Whenever he would come to visit we would laugh so much…”
Also emblematic of the community-minded ethos of the group, and their view that rock and roll is anything but a retro pursuit, are their versions of tunes by two of their contemporary bands. It's certainly to be hoped that the exuberant romp through “Please Stop Talking” by fellow Brits Kelly's Heels will inspire listeners to seek out the original, which shines here as a terrific jangling rocker. And their complete reimagining of a song by BSR labelmates Plasticsoul -- “Therapy,” the title track to the California band's last album – transforms the freakbeat-tinged rocker into a shimmering, dreamy waltz that moved the tune's writer, Steven Wilson, to tears upon first listen.
“Along with the rest of the world, normal operations for Project Spygenius ground to an undignified halt in 2020,” explains Watts of the record's pandemic-era gestation, “so, to keep ourselves ticking over, we decided to do something we don’t normally do – try our hands at a bunch of covers… and not just any covers… covers that said something about Spygenius.” SPYGENIUS BLOW THEIR COVERS emerges as a great deal more than a bit of fun – although that it most certainly is – and far from an exercise in nostalgia. Watts, along with bassist Ruth Rogers, keyboard wizard Matt Byrne and drummer Alan Cannings (all of whom combine for the band's signature jaw-dropping harmonies) have fashioned a love letter to both the music that inspires them and the impetus to keep creating, challenging themselves, and giving back to those who have supported them along the way. It is as wonderful and sincere a gift as Big Stir Records could hope to give at the end of yet another challenging year, and a promise of more to come from SPYGENIUS.
released November 26, 2021
SPYGENIUS are: Peter Watts, Ruth Rogers, Alan Cannings and Matt Byrne
Recorded at Spygenius HQ
Produced by Peter Watts and Spygenius
Mixed by Andy Hurst, Peter Watts and Spygenius
Mastered for CD by Andy Reed
Art by champniss