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RARB REVIEW

School: Stanford University
Group: Fleet Street Singers
Album: What You Want

Total time: 62:34, 17 songs
Tracks 1, 6, 11-16 recorded 1993
Tracks 2-5, 7-10, 17 recorded 1994)

Ordering Information
Order from Mainly A Cappella


Track Listing

  1. Baby Driver (7.8)
  2. Smut (7.4)
  3. On the Street Where You Live (8.0)
  4. Tenderly (7.0)
  5. Blizzard of Lies (7.0)
  6. Black Coffee (7.6)
  7. Pretty Women (6.2)
  8. What's Opera, Doc? (8.0)
  9. Too Young For the Blues (7.2)
  10. House at Pooh Corner (6.0)
  11. The Neb Song (7.0)
  12. Idiocy (7.2)
  13. Everything Happens to Me (7.4)
  14. Teddy Bear's Picnic (7.6)
  15. Ave Maria (8.8)
  16. Duran Duran (8.0)
  17. Hail, Stanford, Hail (6.8)

Reviews

This album was reviewed by five members of RARB. In this compilation, their comments are always listed in a consistent order. Thus, for each song (and in the "overall" section), all comments numbered "1" are from the same reviewer, as are those numbered "2", etc.

Overall

  1. This is one of the best collegiate albums I've ever heard. Maybe not quite as precise musically as some of the best vocal jazz groups, or as energetic as the best contemporary groups, it is a wonderful middle ground. The high end of this album is very high indeed, and it is without a real bomb. While not every song measures up to "Ave Maria" or "On The Street Where You Live", this is an album you can listen straight through, and on the way to the end you'll pick up some really extraordinary tidbits. More than the sum of its parts, I wholeheartedly recommend "What You Want" to anyone interested in a cappella!
    Rating: 8 (6.5)

  2. It's very rare that an album comes along that I can truly nitpick. But this one is it — most everything is really, really well done. For once I can rate an album really based on how much I like the song and its interpretations, because nearly everything has incredible pitch, execution, good voices etc. If you only buy one collegiate a cappella album this year, this is the one. The song choices are kind of standard, but they're new standards — very little is overdone. The Duran Duran medley is a model for how to do contemporary covers, and as the only truly contemporary song on the album stands out. Their Biebl Ave Maria sounds like it's coming from one of the best English college choirs — close your eyes and you can see the arches of the chapel King's College Cambridge. I do wonder where these guys find time to do anything besides sing — this album is so good it's scary. Because of the song choices, they don't exactly burst with energy, which might be a serious flaw in an intimate live performance, and purist that I am I think they have too many effects. When you're this good, though, you've earned the right to play with your sound.
    Rating: 9 (8.2)

  3. This album has consistently good singing, and is well-recorded. Often the lead is mixed softer then I'd like. I didn't particularly like the song choices, but they are performed with polish. It's hard to put my finger on what it is about Fleet Street, but I felt that a lot of their songs just sounded "too much the same". The Duran Duran and Ave Maria show that this group has a good range of sounds, but they don't always show this variety in their other songs. But arrangements are uniformly interesting and soloists are all good. A very solid album, if I had liked the songs more I probably would have given it a higher overall rating.
    Rating: 8 (7.5)

  4. The Fleet Street Singers maintain their record of excellence. Blend, balance and tuning are wonderful. Their soloists are uniformly strong and occasionally inspired. And the arrangements of Jerry Cain would be an asset to any group. Add to that excellent engineering, and what's not to love?
    Rating: 9 (8.8)

  5. They sound very _impressive_, but they're rather bottom- heavy — I can never hear the high tenors, but the basses positively stick out. This could be the result of their mixing technique, or it could be because of the (rather old-fashioned) way that they arrange, which is like an exact transcription of a 40's jazz band. When their style works it is quite good, but too often it sounds stodgy. This album is far too long, and many of the songs sound alike — I would be far _more_ impressed by putting only the best of their repertoire on the album, than by this over-inclusion. I also think that they should branch out a little — they obviously have the ability and voices to do many more styles than they currently limit themselves to. The mixing / recording quality of the album is good but a little showy — they often use effects when they're really not necessary, and the lead is consistently too far back in the mix. It sounds like there are 800 of them, which tends to detract from the more emotional songs, and makes the group ensemble ones (which are numerous) harder to stomach.
    Rating: 7 (5.8)


Individual Tracks

  1. Baby Driver (7.8)
    1. Well, it wouldn't have been my choice to open the album, but there isn't really anything wrong with it. Kind of a strange blend between jazz voicings and multi-timbral standard collegiate a cappella fare, and the result is a little disconcerting, but there is some fine singing going on here.
      Rating: 6

    2. Neat use of overdubbed solo to get that vintage Simon & Garfunkel effect. You can pick out voice tones that aren't perfect, picky points, but this song is incredibly well executed. The first tenor "dwees" in the middle make me really happy.
      Rating: 8

    3. They get a good, electric type "wah-wah"ish tone on this. The lead should have been mixed higher, however. Everything else was good.
      Rating: 8

    4. A swing arrangement of the Paul Simon song. Tight, cool, nicely mixed.
      Rating: 9

    5. Cute. I like the slower, more swinging pace than the original. This is a great song to do _a cappella_, and their arrangement is busy but interesting — it holds your attention for longer than a simpler one would, although the bass line is relatively lame. Solo sounds like it's been doubletracked, but otherwise, aside from occasionally sounding like almost a parody of Paul Simon, is fine.
      Rating: 8

  2. Smut (7.4)
    1. This is a cute parody, sustained by effective and judicious use of studio effects. A wonderful musical bridge reminds the listener that this group can really sing. Sometimes in this arrangement, the tenors are exposed on top, but not enough to bother me.
      Rating: 6

    2. It seems to me the background could have been a little lighter, but I'm not familiar with the original song so I can't comment too much. The falsetto verse is interestingly done, maybe not to my taste, but I love the jazz chord at the end. Comments like "fighting for the freedom of the press" in the lyrics have to count as gratuitous sucking up to reviewers, but I did appreciate it anyway.
      Rating: 8

    3. A jazzy song with a marching-type beat. Soloist solid. I loved the understated ending.
      Rating: 8

    4. A neat arrangement of the Tom Lehrer tune. I particularly like the way the arrangement progresses.
      Rating: 8

    5. This could be good if it wasn't quite so annoyingly arranged, and if the solo wasn't so (melo)dramatic. Although I really hate musicals in general, so it could be that this just isn't my thing. Parts of it are amusing, like the added-in lyrics in the middle.
      Rating: 7

  3. On the Street Where You Live (8.0)
    1. A wonderful arrangement by musical director Jerry Cain is performed with rare skill and musicality by Fleet Street. A very nice solo is complemented by a skillful guest scat by Ben Evans. One of the most energetic examples of vocal jazz I can remember. If I had to find any fault, it would be with some strange studio tricks, especially on the basses.
      Rating: 9

    2. What a great solo — light and strong and clear even in the high registers. The percussion could have been a little crisper, though. Great execution of a doo-wop standard with cute lyrics in the background that I kind of like.
      Rating: 8

    3. An upbeat jazz type tune. Again, nice solo, and good arrangement.
      Rating: 8

    4. A swing arrangement of the Broadway hit. Outstanding arrangement, great feel, excellent lead.
      Rating: 9

    5. Nice percussion. I am not familiar with the song but I gather it's a jazzy number which suits them well. Solo a little too showy, and it clashes with the background. The background is too loud, and the solo too far back in the mix, perhaps to disguise some weaknesses there.
      Rating: 6

  4. Tenderly (7.0)
    1. In the spirit of their previous album, '50 Minute Fun Break', this is a slow ballad loaded with jazz chords and no solo. This incarnation of Fleet Street lacks some of the precision of the earlier group, but there are still some impressive moments.
      Rating: 6

    2. Great harmony piece. Sounds like the Swingle Singers, but without that nasal pronunciation favored by most vocal groups. Tenors get a little breathy at one point, but the bass resonance later more than makes up for it.
      Rating: 8

    3. Nicely done ballad. The arrangement has some very thick chords which are pulled of quite smoothly.
      Rating: 8

    4. Lush, jazz arrangement. Nicely done.
      Rating: 8

    5. They swell well, etc. but sing almost entirely without emotion on this song. You can actually hear a few tenors here, which is an improvement, but doesn't make up for the wooden singing.
      Rating: 5

  5. Blizzard of Lies (7.0)
    1. I never much liked this song when the Shawsheen River Rats performed it, and though Fleet Street tries desperately to make this a better performance piece with a minute long introduction, I still don't really like it. It is well-sung, however, so if this is a style you like, you will like Fleet Street's version. Wonderful jam at the end saves it for me.
      Rating: 6

    2. This is funny. :) Neat percussion effects, and the standard great voices, pitch, etc. It's a little too long, though and the actual song itself doesn't really do it for me. The bass is a little breathy — I like a stronger, richer sound. They've got all that talent, might as well use it. I really like the gratuitous use of "It ain't necessarily so towards the end — personal prejudice there.
      Rating: 8

    3. A well done, but too long, intro involving a weather report. The song itself I found somewhat uninteresting; it was fine but just kind of "there". Well sung, however.
      Rating: 7

    4. A whole bunch of fun messing around introduces this number; the tag is also entertaining. The arrangement itself is OK.
      Rating: 8

    5. Cute intro. The added-in lines are only mildly amusing to everyone under age 60. The song itself is all right, but overly cheesy. I like the weird ending better than the entire rest of the song.
      Rating: 6

  6. Black Coffee (7.6)
    1. A definitive mood piece with a generous helping of blues, this is one of the finest performances on 'What You Want'. I'm not as high on the soloist as his CARA award would indicate, but he is undeniably in command of the song. But I think it's the sensitive coloring of the background that makes this song extraordinary.
      Rating: 8

    2. I really like this one. The soloist sounds a lot like Cher on the new Gershwin tribute album — check it out. Clear, gorgeous tone, appropriate amounts of soul, great subject matter. Ella would be proud. The background does a great job of setting the mood.
      Rating: 9

    3. Sometimes hard to understand the words; lead needs to enunciate slightly better. As the song speeds up, the extreme variations in the volume of the backgrounds were overdone. Lead does, however, give the solo an nice tone.
      Rating: 6

    4. Another fat jazz-blues arrangement. Technique is up to the usual Fleet Street high standards, but the sound is, well, imagine The Lettermen singing "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone", and I think you'll get the idea. Gotta love that tuning, though.
      Rating: 8

    5. Solo's voice is meltingly ravishing but sounds exactly like a woman. The group doesn't seem to notice — if they played it up just a little, it would be amazing. The arrangement is also kind of boring, and doesn't complement the solo in the way that it should.
      Rating: 7

  7. Pretty Women (6.2)
    1. Outside of the Whiffenpoofs, I can't think of a collegiate group performing Sondheim. This is one of Sondheim's strangest songs — a love song with murderous overtones, and I don't think Fleet Street captures its complexity. The basses are a little too gruff also. While I can't see any other college group pulling this off, I never really bought this version.
      Rating: 5

    2. Kind of schmaltzy. It reminds me of the old UNC Clef Hangers interpretations of Send in the Clowns and others a few years back, only it's better done. The interpretation rubs me the wrong way, though.
      Rating: 7

    3. Soloist has a very straight classical style that I didn't like. The singing is well-blended and in tune, but I simply didn't like this song. I found it boring rather than beautiful.
      Rating: 6

    4. The Sondheim number from "Sweeney Todd". This works really well for me, I'm not sure why. I particularly like the lead.
      Rating: 9

    5. This song sounds exactly like the previous one, without the benefit of a fantastic lead. The soloist on this one is decent, but marred by excessive vibrato. The group also seems slightly out-of-control at times. This song really does not do it for me.
      Rating: 4

  8. What's Opera, Doc? (8.0)
    1. An inspired repertoire choice, this track is punctuated by brilliant mixing. The great Elmer Fudd impersonation and brilliant quartet backing the solos makes for a thoroughly entertaining and musically interesting choice. A rare example of a performance piece working very well on a CD!
      Rating: 8

    2. This song frightens me. It's just a little _too_ well done. Are these guys for real? Who would sit down and do a deadpan, amazing rendition of a Bugs Bunny tune. Who has time to do this? It's so long, and so done too a tee, and absolutely perfectly. What's the deal?
      Rating: 8

    3. Kudos to the group for trying to recreate this famous cartoon. I imagine that on stage they do this with full costume, and I bet it's great. The voices for Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny are actually fairly good, Elmer better than Bugs. This version should have been shorter, it is very long. (I feel that I should warn those that haven't seen the original that they may not enjoy this as much as I did).
      Rating: 8

    4. A piece which attempts to answer the burning question: What if Wagner had worked for Warner Brothers? Great vocal effects; inspirational text.
      Rating: 9

    5. Really quite well done for the most part — although I have to confess that the thing that is the funniest to me is that the one who sings Elmer Fudd sounds exactly like Adam Sandler. It goes on too long though, and we don't really need all the dialogue in the middle. Also the quality of the arrangement varies, although the sound effects are nice.
      Rating: 7

  9. Too Young For the Blues (7.2)
    1. Again, lacking some of the precision of the previous Fleet Street incarnations, especially in the bass section, and in the fact that individual voices tend to stick out a little more, but this track has nice energy to compensate for the minor musical deficiencies.
      Rating: 7

    2. Whee! Fun little standard-genre song. Didn't I hear this one on that Tigertones record? What about that Whiffenpoofs CD? Doesn't matter — no one can really tell the difference. It's a fun song, and I really love the scat guy.
      Rating: 8

    3. Nice, tight jazz chords.
      Rating: 8

    4. A bit of percussion would do the beginning of this number a world of good. Swing without a rhythmic accent on 2 and 4 sounds a bit weird. Otherwise fine.
      Rating: 8

    5. This song irritates me for some reason that I can't pin down — it sounds like there are a million of them, and I think maybe it would have a better effect if they were just a smaller group. There's something very foolish about the way they sing it, which they don't acknowledge.
      Rating: 5

  10. House at Pooh Corner (6.0)
    1. This Kenny Loggins classic is very cute, and is well sung, but I have to admit that it does nothing for me. If it wasn't about Winnie the Pooh, nobody would pay any attention to this very mediocre song, and I guess being about that lovable bear isn't enough of a justification for this questionable repertoire choice.
      Rating: 5

    2. I do not like this arrangement. It is too slow and too lugubrious — this song always struck me as a lighthearted, fun song, and the solo and delivery is a little too heavy, too much going on. This is the only song on the album that really rubs me the wrong way.
      Rating: 6

    3. Soloist has a nice tone, but sometimes his pitch is slightly off. Backup solid, the doubling voice on the chorus is nice and unobtrusive.
      Rating: 7

    4. Nice handling of this insomnia-cure waiting to happen.
      Rating: 8

    5. Ridiculous arrangement which occasionally even sounds out-of-tune or unintentionally dissonant. Solo is also wavery and weak. The thing that sounds stupid on this song is the fact that they appear to be singing it entirely straight — if it was even the slightest bit tongue-in-cheek it could work.
      Rating: 4

  11. The Neb Song (7.0)
    1. A short, strange original dominated by heavy-duty studio effects. Somehow it just doesn't fit on this album, and for that reason alone I don't like it.
      Rating: 5

    2. I really don't think I want to know where this one came from. It's really kinda nifty, though — Great bass part, nifty studio tricks. Short, too — always a plus.
      Rating: 9

    3. A song that was apparently written about (group member?) Neb. Very short. Lots of obvious studio echo effects, soloists going for a silly growly soul sound.
      Rating: 5

    4. First of 2 originals, must be an in-joke. Neat little break, though.
      Rating: 9

    5. I actually like this song better than many of the rest of the songs on this album, as it is more genuinely laid-back and cute. The only thing I don't like about it is the reverb, which it doesn't need. It sounds like they were playing around in the studio to try to make the song sound as full as the rest of them, which isn't necessary as it is obviously an original and trying to disguise it does not fool anyone.
      Rating: 7

  12. Idiocy (7.2)
    1. If Richard Greene and Gunnar Madsen had liked jazz more and had a bigger group, this is the kind of song The Bobs would have performed. Musically, this song keeps you off-balance, moving as easily as it does between flowing passages of seventh chords into straight suspension/release textures.
      Rating: 6

    2. For some reason, this song really musically reminds me of a more pleasant version of that Andy Summers classic "Mother" from Synchronicity. It's kind of nifty, rather bizarre, and you wouldn't want to be subjected to parts of it for long periods of time in an enclosed area. I really identify with some of the lyrics, too.
      Rating: 8

    3. A bold beginning, arrangement very good (and complex). The high tenors are sticking out a little more then they should be in places.
      Rating: 8

    4. The second original. Very interesting arrangement, with a bunch of vocal effects and a couple of studio effects on top.
      Rating: 9

    5. I find this hard to make sense of — arrangement very busy, blend worse than the rest of the songs, people going "whee!" and "thanks!" at random intervals, and the people singing the words are too far back in the mix.
      Rating: 5

  13. Everything Happens to Me (7.4)
    1. A terrifically timbral solo, this is a very nice jazz ballad. Another skillful arrangement by Jerry Cain (who is also the soloist), this demonstrates their blend skills, which had been somewhat subdued to this point. Excellent!
      Rating: 8

    2. Yay. Happiness. Note my enthusiasm. This song is musically very well done, yeah, yeah, but damn if I wonder why they chose it. It's slow, melodically uninteresting and really doesn't seem worth the effort. Broadway types will like it, though, and hey — it's their cd.
      Rating: 7

    3. A jazz ballad with clever lyrics. Soloist quite good.
      Rating: 8

    4. Another beautiful jazz ballad. What more can I say?
      Rating: 9

    5. Exactly like "Tenderly", "Black Coffee" and "Pretty Women". Why have four songs that sound exactly alike, rendered in the exact same way? By this point in the album, moreover, their style is getting rather old.
      Rating: 5

  14. Teddy Bear's Picnic (7.6)
    1. A little too cutesy for my taste. Coming as it does in between two musical tours-de-force, this track just doesn't measure up to the high standards Fleet Street sets for themselves. Nothing wrong with this tune, it just isn't anything special.
      Rating: 5

    2. Everybody always scrambles to find the song they can sing at those grade schools alumni pay you to sing at. This is the one. It's funny, its good, it's engaging, and it has enough inside jokes to keep the adults from puking. Maybe not the listening choice of millions, but it's near the top at what it is.
      Rating: 9

    3. The familiar children's song, done very well.
      Rating: 8

    4. A fun arrangement of a really cute number that I've always had a soft spot for. Love the background figures and the ending.
      Rating: 10

    5. I'm sorry but this is downright geeky, again because it sounds like they are taking it seriously. Only in the end do they admit how ridiculous it is for them to be singing this song, which is why it's the only funny part of the whole song. It (along with "The Neb Song") also shows that they could sing in a more soulful way if they wanted to, which would be a refreshing improvement.
      Rating: 6

  15. Ave Maria (8.8)
    1. As well sung as I had any right to expect, this is a wonderful composition and they do an admirable job with it. Biebl's choral masterpiece being done by a collegiate group is a novel idea, but it really does work. They perform and engineer this track with a skillful delicacy one could only expect from a professional chorus. Some brief musical lapses are the only thing stopping this from being as good as any Chanticleer recording.
      Rating: 9

    2. This song sounds professional. The countertenor soloist is amazing, the blend is great, the bass is to die for — makes me think I'm back in Cambridge.
      Rating: 10

    3. An unusual choice, which I appreciate. This is a slow version (at least slower than when I sang it). Very nice; blend is quite good. It would have been nice to have a louder finale.
      Rating: 8

    4. Wonderful combination of old and new idioms. Perfect blend, balance and pitch.
      Rating: 10

    5. Beautifully if somewhat boringly sung, but the studio effects make it sound... like studio effects have been added. I find it inappropriate for this kind of song. There are too many of them and they sound like they're all either singing baritone or bass. The solos are nice, though.
      Rating: 7

  16. Duran Duran (8.0)
    1. Unlike anything else on this album, this track is marked by substantial creativity. Nonetheless, they are not as skillful at polyrhythmic textures as they are at dissonant chords. In addition, although this is a very creative arrangement in the way it puts the different Duran Duran classics together, the individual sections are not up to Fleet Street's high standards.
      Rating: 5

    2. I never thought I would ever give a song a 10. There is no such thing as perfection, I said. But this is pretty damn close — great arrangement, integrates just about every song on Duran Duran's greatest hits. Uses lots of neat soloists, has stratospheric first tenor bits, some nifty studio tricks — wow!! [True confession: I loved the madrigal bit.] It may not have been performable live, but I wouldn't put it past them to come close.
      Rating: 10

    3. Very good. They do a medley of several songs; mixed in an unusually good arrangement. (Is that bass drum simply someone hitting a microphone over and over?). I could make slight criticisms of almost all of the soloists, but they are generally strong. This might have been a 9 or 10, but the different songs and soloists were of varying qualities. The joke sections are some of the weakest (although some are good). Particular compliments for the last 30 seconds of the song where several songs are going all at once, they complement each other quite well.
      Rating: 8

    4. Part medley, part juxtaposition of several tunes. I would have preferred one or two attempts at transitions, but there's no faulting the performance, and there are several really clever bits in there.
      Rating: 9

    5. Parts of the first arrangement are quite good, but the bass line still sounds like a transplant from the 40's. It improves a lot, though. "Reflex" soloist not comfortable with high notes, neither is the "Wild Boys" one, but others are good. Particularly good is the "Hungry Like The Wolf" segment. Goes on much too long — we don't need every hit Duran Duran ever had. But I give them many points for ambitious arranging, singing different songs simultaneously, etc.
      Rating: 8

  17. Hail, Stanford, Hail (6.8)
    1. A nice rendition of a traditional Stanford song.
      Rating: 7

    2. What can you say, it's the alma mater. I'd love to have them if I were graduating from Stanford. But it'd be a crime to waste these guys as background music at an administrative function.
      Rating: 8

    3. This is a smooth, one and a half minute college song ballad.
      Rating: 8

    4. Traditional choral-style arrangement, beautifully done.
      Rating: 9

    5. I hate it when collegiate groups put their school song on their cd — at most schools the only enjoyment people who go there get out of their school song is to make fun of it. So doing one's school song completely straight is not even worth it for them, let alone for people who don't go to the school. I personally cannot think of anything more stultifying than someone _else_'s school song. To top it off, not once have I heard an interesting arrangement of a school song, and this one is no exception. It's not bad — there's nothing wrong with it — but who cares to listen to it?
      Rating: 2

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