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The Exboyfriends

Happy Ending (2013)

4.7

November 12, 2013

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 In the Flesh 4.3
2 Sunday Bloody Sunday 4.3
3 Dirty Work 4.7
4 (Don't Fear) The Reaper 4.7
5 In The End 4.3
6 Feels Like the First Time 5.0
7 Hunger Strike 4.3
8 Hotel California 4.7
9 Teenage Dirtbag 4.3
10 Life's Been Good 4.7
11 Frankenstein (Hidden Track) 4.0

Recorded 2005 – 2013
Total time: 58:19, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 In the Flesh 5
2 Sunday Bloody Sunday 4
3 Dirty Work 5
4 (Don't Fear) The Reaper 5
5 In The End 5
6 Feels Like the First Time 5
7 Hunger Strike 4
8 Hotel California 5
9 Teenage Dirtbag 4
10 Life's Been Good 4
11 Frankenstein (Hidden Track) 3

The Exboyfriends are back, and like any decent ex they're full of charm, nostalgia, and a few habits that just make you want to roll your eyes. Needless to say I'm a sucker for this sort of thing.

Most importantly, they've still got their groove. The full-out choruses of In The End, the salsa second half of Hotel California, the block chords and percussion overlays throughout — this album moves. Such momentum is the biggest carryover from A Cappella's Dead, as well as the thing that makes this music stand up in your record collection next to anything else you throw against it.

The Exes have big voices and they throw themselves against their selection of classic rock hits and radio backlists. Besides the instantly recognizable Eagles and Blue Öyster Cult, the group does a great job with Steely Dan's Dirty Work and revives Life's Been Good, one of those songs you know you've heard loads of times but couldn't possibly name. Or at least I couldn't, until I checked the track list. Life's Been Good comes back here with a sizable helping of novelty lyrics, one of this group's other stalwart habits. I can't say I really adore the mix of mom jokes and frat-boy/sixth-grader humor, but it doesn't bother me too much either.

The solo voices are very strong, from the ballsy In the Flesh on out, more than I remember from their previous outing. Also the new album opens with a bit of what I think of as the early '90s men's glee club sound, a certain choral timbre that seems to have bridged the space between the pure glee clubs of days of yore and the pop extravaganzas of today. I've always liked that sound, so it's nice to hear the boys singing it truly here, setting the stage for the nouveau-oldies vibe throughout the disc.

Happy Ending doesn't get worse the more you listen to it. It sounds just as alive on the 10th listen as the first. And so, albeit limited to a few well-selected highlights, The Exboyfriends are very welcome back in my life.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 In the Flesh 4
2 Sunday Bloody Sunday 4
3 Dirty Work 4
4 (Don't Fear) The Reaper 4
5 In The End 4
6 Feels Like the First Time 5
7 Hunger Strike 4
8 Hotel California 4
9 Teenage Dirtbag 4
10 Life's Been Good 5
11 Frankenstein (Hidden Track) 5

The Exboyfriends walk a fine line between classic rocker and complete goofball. The set list speaks for itself. The screaming leads back it up. The wackiness comes in two main elements: the syllable choices and the back-up lyrics. Expect the sound of instrumental imitation that doesn't really embrace realism so much as rockin' out to the radio. And plan on back-up lyrics about, well, your mom.

Screaming tenor leads push the collegiate-sounding backs to the next level, but careful listeners will be curiously drawn to David Kern's body percussion. One part rockin', one part McFerrin, it's always compelling, and the sounds and patterns stand out as unique in the a cappella world. You just play your chest and tummy differently than you beatbox. Producer-engineer Ed Chung (of Duwende fame) must have had his hands full deciding just how much naturalism to leave in, and how much audio enhancement to add.

Feels Like the First Time leans away from clever and towards the essence of the song. Even the arrangement's finger-lip trills don't feel goofy here. They're just a wink while the group keeps on rockin' out. And the little Like a Virgin quote at the end adds the perfect touch. It's the most genuine of the rock tracks. Hunger Strike should probably also win some rockin' award. It wasn't my favorite, but as for willingness to blow out your voice screaming way too high, you have to give it to them. And isn't that part of what rock is about? Going too far? Being unapologetically self-indulgent?

The goofiest of the tracks has to be Life's Been Good. Much like the Binghamton Crosbys' Super Brothers, this track is chock full of the most fun and irreverent lyrics you can imagine. In addition to carnal relations with your mom, an entire section of the song is devoted to a Cleveland Steamer. So yeah. Enjoy that. It's hard not to, actually.

Happy Ending is a bit of a farewell for the group after 15 years together. And while their particular blend of classic rock and zaniness isn't for everyone, for those who followed them on the journey, for those who witnessed David Kern's red splotchy chest following a gig of enthusiastically flagellating himself, for those who joined in the messy jam session that was the Exboyfriends, this is a group that won't soon be forgotten. 


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 In the Flesh 4
2 Sunday Bloody Sunday 5
3 Dirty Work 5
4 (Don't Fear) The Reaper 5
5 In The End 4
6 Feels Like the First Time 5
7 Hunger Strike 5
8 Hotel California 5
9 Teenage Dirtbag 5
10 Life's Been Good 5
11 Frankenstein (Hidden Track) 4

After a brief performing hiatus, The Exboyfriends have returned with their third and final release, Happy Ending. The album features more brillant, in-your-face arrangements by David Kern and raw, powerful soloists. With covers of Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Blue Öyster Cult, Foreigner, and many more, The Exboyfriends present this album with the energy of a classic rock band. The production work by Ed Chung (Duwende) is forward and bright, lending itself to some tasteful and natural enhancements. Superior musicality, creative arrangements and powerful delivery make Happy Ending a transcendent farewell.

There are countless highlights throughout this album, naturally: the numerous musical quotes from other songs like the inclusion of Like A Virgin by Madonna in Feels Like the First Time; Jeremy Lipkin's effortlessly soaring delivery on Sunday Bloody Sunday; and the Latin-infused Hotel California. The body percussion by Kern accentuates each track perfectly and is one of the group's signatures, while Chung's vocal percussion is an excellent compliment. The arrangements, all written by Kern, are imaginative and inspired, paying homage to the originals while adding vivid new colors that surround the listener.

There are several shortcomings, such as the musical quote from Safety Dance by Men Without Hats in the introduction of In The End by Linkin Park; the echo effect doesn't help. Using Outside the Wall as an introduction for In the Flesh would be perfectly acceptable had it not been the first track. Cutting out that first minute would have made In the Flesh that much stronger and perfectly set the mood for the rest of Happy Ending. The hidden track is a live radio performance of Frankenstein by The Edgar Winter Group, from A Cappella's Dead, although iTunes will tell you differently if you try to import this album (well played, gentlemen).

If you don't already own Happy Ending, I whole-heartedly recommend it. The Exboyfriends have produced a truly brilliant and energetic album. Thank you, The Exboyfriends, for your contribution to the a cappella community.

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