Music Up! is Out of the Blue’s eleventh studio album and the group’s self-proclaimed ‘largest scale record ever attempted’, with production taking place in four different time zones. Of all the albums I purchased at the Edinburgh Festival in August (and believe me, there were a lot of them), this is by far the one I listen to the most, and great credit must be given to the boys, especially Musical Director Nick Barstow, for producing yet another album that is filled with fun, character and musical precision which is again ridiculously easy to listen to.
I have expressed my appreciation of Laurie Cottam’s skyscraping tenor previously, and so to hear him taking the lead on the opening song, The Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life, which remains my favourite on the entire album, made me very happy. This is one of those numbers which you can turn up loud in your car and sing along to shamelessly, not giving a damn about the odd glares that passers-by give you along the way. The arrangement itself is busy and energetic, but while the merge into Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely works well as a refreshing change up, that particular section isn’t quite as musically interesting at the previous song. Still, it’s my most played song on my iTunes this month, so the boys must be doing something right.
There are many highlights on this album: the wall of sound that hits you on the opening of Fat Bottomed Girls; the goosebump-inducing With Or Without You, which is magnificently and purely sung in two octaves; the mash-up of the Spice Girls’ Stop and 5ive’s Keep On Movin’ which, for a 90s kid like me, is a welcome blast from the past; the lively VF-UK arrangement of Jessie J’s Domino, sung by Nick Barstow with real emotion and character; and the musically superb California Girls, which is mashed-up from start to finish in a real triumph of originality. Oh, and the beatboxing in the bridges of the latter is frankly astounding. In fact, I could quite easily make a positive comment about every single track on this album, such is the quality of arrangement and execution of every single number.
There were few negatives. I’m still not won over by their Lippy Kids arrangement – I’m not sure why. It’s minimalistc, but still requires precise timing for the majority of the backing parts, which comes off well, but the number just doesn’t make me feel anything. It doesn’t make me tap my foot, nor does it appeal to my emotions. It’s musically flawless but I can’t help but listen with disinterest when it comes on. Their arrangement of Skinny Love is good, but does seem a little fast and again leads to a slight loss of emotion that the original otherwise provides. However, the dual solo section and the build up towards the climax at the end is phenomenal.
These are very churlish, personal criticisms on what is otherwise a very, very impressive album. I think the real triumph of this album is how different and unique all the arrangements are. While the boys do have a distinct sound and image, they are still able to distinguish between soul, pop, rock and hip hop, and inject the relevant elements of each genre into their music. Equally impressive is that at times I find their arrangements to be better than the originals, which, for a student a cappella group, is extraordinary.
Buy this album. You won’t regret it.