We’re Not Kitten is the first studio album to come out of St Andrews’ only auditioned mixed-voice a cappella group in two years, and is very much the culmination of the previous two years’ of Cats: scattered arrangements from 2010/11 MD Lizzy Weintz bless the album, as well as one marvellous solo, while songs from their award winning Voice Festival set back in March of 2011 combine with those from this year to form the backbone of this generally impressive effort from the Scotland-based group, which provides a much fuller offering of the group’s musical tastes than their previous 7-track effort, Cat Touch This.
Naturally infused with cat-related puns, We’re Not Kitten, like most albums, has its highs, lows and middle-of-the-roads. Three things stand out immediately from a superficial first listen: firstly, Cammy Dobbie will be sorely missed. His beatboxing throughout this album is nothing short of phenomenal. The fact that on several of the tracks I am overwhelmed by the ever-giving smorgasbord of vocal percussion that I forget to listen to the song itself is credit to the recent graduate who will be very difficult to replace. Secondly, The Alleycats are definitely not short of solo oomph. The standout quality of the soloists does occasionally impact on group blend, particularly on Kiss Me, in which Annie Faichney’s delightfully floated angelic solo has to navigate backing in which it is a little too easy to pick out individual voices. But all of the solos are delivered powerfully, pitch-perfectly and with real verve. And finally, the immense amounts of energy and enthusiasm bursting through the seams of this album make it almost feel as if you’re at one of their live shows. Unfortunately, almost is the operative word here, and I must say the group sound better in person, when their music and energy is combined with their signature choreography.
By the way, this album sounds way better through headphones. Or with any kind of bass booster. Do it.
The highlights of the album heavily outweigh the lowlights. We are treated to a beautiful, lustrous solo from Garrett Turner on Track 1, Ray LaMontagne’s You Are The Best Thing, which incorporates some lovely deep bass resonance, a couple of strong female harmonies throughout and some typical Alleycat backing ‘ba’ sounds. Garrett even treats us to some lovely falsetto at the end of the number – another gem of a find that the group will miss dearly. The slow arrangement of When You Were Young is one I have always championed, and Philip de Winter Shaw’s solo is again pitch-perfect and suits this arrangement down to the ground. That Don’t Impress Me Much is brightened up by some hilarious spoken interludes, including references to being able to name all 151 original Pokemon, living with your parents and studying Maths. (If that went straight over your head, listen to the song – you’ll get it). Titanium is one of the best recent songs the group has covered, with a massive solo delivered magnificently by the tragically underused Heather Robertson. But the real highlight is the mash-up of Usher’s DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love, Britney’s Till The World Ends and Enrique’s Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You), which is one of the most original and seamless mash-ups I have heard recently. It’s a shame the group don’t try their hand more often at mash-ups, because this one has everything – songs blended from start to finish, immaculate transitions between solos, and a real Alleycat stamp on the whole thing.
There are no bad tracks on this album; rather some which make choices that sometimes don’t make that much sense. Two stand out as songs which could have potentially been killer tracks, but instead remained above average: The Cave and Toxic. On the former, the unique voice of Thomas Ziolkowski comes to the fore, and while his voice is the most Mumford-esque in the group, I find it difficult to figure out whether or not it works on this track. The problem I have with it is that Ziolkowski jumps off the originally long high “I” notes in the chorus a little too quickly, which causes the track to lose some of the echoey atmosphere contained in the original. This isn’t helped by the fact the song never really reaches a climax and the group’s decision to fade the song out at the end – especially as the original doesn’t even do that. Fade-outs are a bit of a cop out, and so I would have preferred a sense of finality to the song. After all, you can’t fade out live. The latter track, Britney’s Toxic, starts off with a strong solo from Ollie Hayes, but again, the decision to place the song in a key that meant Hayes had to drop an octave during the chorus was a bizarre one and lead to the solo becoming a little lost within the blend, which in turn dented the impact a chorus should have, which is to be the most memorable, climactic and catchy part of the song.
Nitpicking aside, on the whole this album delivers an accurate representation of the last two years of Alleycat history, crammed full of energetic songs which demonstrate the considerable arranging abilities of the current and past MDs, Brendan Macdonald and Lizzy Weintz, and the phenomenal vocal talent that the group had at its disposal. With over half of the group having left at the end of the last academic session, we’d better hope the group have recruited new members willing and able to fill the enormous boots left behind.