I confess – I have been listening to a lot of American a cappella recently. Having purchased several BOCAs, listening avidly to Christopher Diaz and Dave Brown’s Mouth Off podcast, and tuning in each week to watch NBC’s The Sing-Off, hearing the second album from All The King’s Men has made me come to realise how far British a cappella must still come to even scratch the surface of its American counterpart.
Not that I’m saying this is a bad record – on the contrary, considering the group are relative novices in the a cappella scene, this set of fifteen songs is something for the boys to be extremely proud of – as is their appearance in the VF-UK final earlier this year and their highly successful tour of the USA, from which I am sure they learnt a great deal. I really believe if they, and several of the other top British groups, continue with this fast learning process, then the gap between the UK and the US might be bridged sooner than anyone could have expected.
Having said that, in my opinion there are too many mash-ups on this album. Of the fifteen, there are only six straight covers. This says one of two things to me: on a positive note, the boys clearly have arranging potential – indeed, “Play That Funky Music/Superstition” is one of the best tracks on the album; however it also says that in order to make a song sound interesting, they add a new song in, rather than tweaking the arrangement itself. While this works in places, there are a few too many times when the boys simply stop singing one song and start singing another as part of an ‘arrangement’. While this creates a great deal of variety on the album, it’s not my opinion of how a mash-up should work and leaves a couple of the arrangements sounding a little stilted.
Their mash-up of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and Snow Patrol’s “Run” is, however, exactly how a mash-up should work. The marvellous solo from Alex Jones is like a giant, comforting bear hug, and the rest of the group drop down to a perfect volume to allow this solo to engulf you in the verses. I was delighted when the solo moved up the octave for the climax towards the end of the song – a perfect ending to a flawless arrangement. That one will be on my ‘Faves’ playlist for a long time.
While the rest of the mash-ups are good fun, particularly the “America Tribute”, the “Spice Girls Medley” and the “Bee Gees Medley”, I think the group really shines on their straight covers, which is why I think they should have more faith in their ability to cover a song and make it sound awesome. One example is the final track on the album, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, on which Chris Jamieson’s solo is SAAAAHHHH-weet! The harmonies are slick on “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”, and the group just about does MJ’s “Thriller” justice (what a big song to cover!), but the real triumph is the a cappella classic “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Fun and energy oozes out of every corner of this song, especially the various animal noises that they make throughout the record, and I particularly like their breakdown in the middle as they all pretend to yawn and fall asleep, despite the fact it is a little corny: “Oh, come on guys!”, says the soloist, Noah Mosley, in mock despair. I’m a sucker for cheese.
All in all, I think this album is all about having fun – the boys clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, have a great deal of fun and happen to make a pretty good record in the process. There are at times some pitching issues, especially with the falsetto harmonies, but the boys do a professional job and as a result this album is very easy to listen to. While steps must be taken to reach the level of the US, this is a solid attempt to get closer to that goal.