Happy 15th Anniversary to Mandy Moore’s fourth studio album Coverage, originally released October 21, 2003.
In the spring of 1999, the American charts were being swarmed by a pre-fab pop pack of youths who had plenty of hook-ready tracks and major label backing at their disposal to ensnare that ever-sizable teenage audience of the period. Boy bands and emergent dance-pop divas were the order of the day and competition amongst them was always steady. In the beginning, any overt rivalry was merely implied (and friendly) for the young women in the dance-pop category: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore.
As 1999 gave way to 2000, Spears and Aguilera ascended to the front of the pack, with Simpson and Moore a few notches behind. Between these two, Moore’s demure intensity as an actress and radio ready voice assured that she wouldn’t be just another flash in the pan. Unveiled in June of 2001, Moore’s self-titled third album was released seven months ahead of her next major film role—and first as a co-headliner—A Walk to Remember. Mandy Moore also preceded both Spears’ Britney (2001) and Aguilera’s Stripped (2002).
All three of these long players addressed the criticism being leveled at their creators for their supposed lack of creative autonomy. Despite only possessing one co-write credit from Moore, her LP was convincingly strong. Its lead-off single “In My Pocket” was a flavorful burst of world music that Moore put across exquisitely, but it—and its parent recording—failed to make the same critical and commercial inroads her peers made with their projects. For Moore, it became apparent that if she were going to pursue her music long term, she wasn’t going to make any lasting impression as a packaged ingenue.
Reluctantly, Epic Records, the label Moore called home, gave the singer permission to plot her fourth effort as she saw fit. Excited to be given such latitude, Moore went searching for an ideal partner to work with her. Enter Boston born musician and producer John Fields, a decorated individual, he had worked with a wealth of artists across various genres. Impressed with Moore’s commitment and energy, Fields agreed to pilot what was to become Coverage.
Traditionally, covers records have been elaborate holding patterns for a veteran artist; while not uncommon, it has been a rarity for a recording artist to tackle a covers collection too early in their career. That Moore decided to make Coverage was a daring maneuver on her part. Diving headlong into the music that she had been listening to (and discovering) in her personal time, Moore handpicked each of the twelve cuts elected to appear on her fourth LP from that aggregation.
In order of appearance, the roll call for Coverage is as follows: XTC (“Senses Working Overtime”), The Waterboys (“The Whole of the Moon”), Todd Rundgren (“Can We Still Be Friends?”), Carole King (“I Feel the Earth Move”), Elton John (“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”), Joan Armatrading (“Drop the Pilot”), Cat Stevens (“Moonshadow”), Blondie (“One Way or Another”), Joe Jackson (“Breaking Us In Two”), Carly Simon (“Anticipation”), Joni Mitchell (“Help Me”), and John Hiatt (“Have a Little Faith in Me”).
Harvested from folk, album-oriented rock, new wave and college alternative spaces—as well as a specific stretch in popular music from 1971 to 1985—Fields drapes the entries in a crisp, adult pop sound courtesy of a fine crop of session musicians under his knowing instruction. Recorded in a breezy eight-week expanse, Moore and Fields cleverly move between admiration and renovation on Coverage. Many of the compositions retain their originating charms, but there were exceptions. Whether it’s tastefully dotting “Senses Working Overtime” with record deck scratches or reworking the middle-eight of “Moonshadow” with an anthemic lift, the production Fields uses with Moore fits her like a glove.
But Moore isn’t without her own power as a singer and that is what ultimately gives Coverage its emotional charge. Within the album’s first three tracks—“Senses Working Overtime,” “The Whole of the Moon,” “Can We Still Be Friends?”—Moore is all at once passionate, yearning and sometimes soulful. A blend of Moore’s technical proficiency and interpretive instinct bring a respectable likability to her takes of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” and “Have a Little Faith in Me” despite her age. Clearly pulling from a place inside of herself, every performance here is believable and can draw listeners in.
This talent would serve Moore well when the LP was rolled out for release on October 21, 2003. Coverage met with mostly positive reviews, the majority of critics praising Moore’s conviction, attention to detail and the breadth of her selections for inclusion on the album. Two singles—“Drop the Pilot” and “Have a Little Faith in Me”—were elected to represent Coverage, but they couldn’t alleviate its soft commercial reception. This put pressure on an already strained business relationship with Epic Records. A contractually engineered singles set was unceremoniously released one year later without Moore’s support. However, by that time Moore had already moved on from Epic Records.
Showcasing her own solid songwriting, the follow-ups to Coverage via Wild Hope (2007) and Amanda Leigh (2009) further endeared her to the music press and continued building a new buying base for her. As Moore continued to evolve musically, she kept steady work as an actress too. The latter career lane would lead her to her current position as member of the award-winning ensemble of the NBC Drama This Is Us. And yet, music remains a principal concern for her as she has teased at work on a forthcoming seventh album.
Fifteen years parted from its initial reveal, Moore’s Coverage remains quite the creative coup. Born out of Moore’s conviction and integrity with respect to her own muse, the album liberated her from the machinery of mainstream pop and put her on a path of her own making.