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InsideOut

Experience (2000)

3.8

October 30, 2000

Tuning / Blend 4.2
Energy / Intensity 3.4
Innovation / Creativity 3.6
Soloists 3.6
Sound / Production 3.8
Repeat Listenability 3.4
Tracks
1 Oh L'amour 3.8
2 Dreamer 3.8
3 Love, Me 3.2
4 What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy) 4.2
5 Cruel Kindness 4.0
6 Jackie Chan 3.6
7 Silence 3.8
8 Come Thou Fount 3.4
9 Stalking Song 2.6
10 Lion Sleeps Tonight 3.2
11 Cruel Kindness (Italian Reprise) 3.6

Recorded 1999
Total time: 39:19, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Oh L'amour 4
2 Dreamer 4
3 Love, Me 4
4 What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy) 5
5 Cruel Kindness 5
6 Jackie Chan 4
7 Silence 4
8 Come Thou Fount 4
9 Stalking Song 4
10 Lion Sleeps Tonight 5
11 Cruel Kindness (Italian Reprise) 5

If KiCKSHAW embodies the MTV side of the a cappella world, then InsideOut is the unaccompanied equivalent of VH1. Softer, with more of your favorites from the '80s and early '90s, perfect for the contemporary adult listener.

So what's wrong with that? I thoroughly enjoyed this album, in all its soft rock glory. It made me identify with my friend the paramedic, who keeps VH1 on all day long when he's at work. It's pleasant, the pictures are pretty and you can use it to help you bop around the station cleaning up after the louses who work the shift before you.

Listen to InsideOut singing that Pure Energy song. If you have even latent child-of-the-eighties impulses, this album will perk up your day. It ought to be entered on the rolls of the best a cappella covers of all-time.

Okay, so the eighties do come with a little bit of baggage. Every single track on this album is accompanied by a vocal drum-machine track. That's right, these six lads devoted considerable time and energy to learning how to vocally mimic the preprogrammed sounds on a Casio. A little scary, especially on their interpretation of Love Me, which they put through the same pop radio filter as I Can Love You Like That: a perfectly lovely country song turned unbearably saccharine by the latest boy-group sensation.

Even the originals are in character. The InsideOut self-penned Cruel Kindness had me going for 10 minutes trying to remember which '80s group was responsible, until I broke down and looked at the liner notes. Oops. Nice work guys.

Another plus for InsideOut was their treatment of the workhorse songs of the gigging cover band — Lion, Happy Together (track 9) and the obligatory Abba cover (track 6). The boys wrote some engaging new lyrics and sang them relatively straight up, so that you can think about the fun of the live show without wincing at the recording. And I got a mild kick out of the Power of One-style intro for Lion Sleeps Tonight — not to mention its sendup of the Discovery Channel's Crocodile Hunter. (Ever seen it? It's an incredibly repetitive program about this guy who likes to bother snakes. And it's another one of those shows that's always on in fire stations.)

InsideOut is an excellent concept band with the chops to back it up. And it's very accessible music, a cappella fan or no. Buy it, and do your chores with a smile.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Oh L'amour 5
2 Dreamer 4
3 Love, Me 2
4 What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy) 5
5 Cruel Kindness 5
6 Jackie Chan 4
7 Silence 4
8 Come Thou Fount 3
9 Stalking Song 3
10 Lion Sleeps Tonight 2
11 Cruel Kindness (Italian Reprise) 4

The songs on InsideOut's new CD, Experience are all over the map. They've got everything from comedy numbers to spiritual songs. But despite the scattershot repertoire, it's easy to hear what the group's true sound is: vintage '80s Euro-pop. There are other good cuts on the disc, but the two standout tracks are Erasure's Oh L'amour and the Information Society's What's On Your Mind.

InsideOut does such a good job with these kinds of pop songs that I keep imagining what an InsideOut album of nothing but dance club standards would sound like. I even made up a wish list of covers: What Have I Done To Deserve This?, Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money), and Go West, by the Pet Shop Boys; Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order; Just Can't Get Enough and Everything Counts, by Depeche Mode. Maybe throw some ABBA and Duran Duran into the mix for good measure.

I'm not just obsessing on just two tracks. InsideOut approaches every song on the album with a tight, yet easy going style. It's that style that makes their two Euro-pop covers work: InsideOut's polished vocals fit well with the synth-pop sound. Their relaxed singing is the perfect match for the detached style of the original vocalists. Before I move on to the rest of the album and its diverse styles, I should point out that if somebody told you that the original song Dreamer was actually the B-Side to Scitti Politti's Perfect Way you would probably believe them, and that the comedy song Jackie Chan is set to the tune of ABBA's Take A Chance on Me. Okay, enough Euro-pop.

Inside Out tackles a couple of song parodies and they do a pretty good job. Jackie Chan is winningly goofy tribute to the world's funniest action hero. The stalking theme of The Stalking Song, (set to the tune of Happy Together) feels a bit obvious at times, but when the lyrics periodically get really nasty ("I've got you cat, don't be alarmed.") the song hits the mark. If they haven't sent the CD to Dr. Demento yet then they better run do so ASAP. The comedy, while enjoyable on its own, doesn't mix well with the rest of disc. The transition from the religious Come Thou Fount to The Stalking Song is particularly jarring. Also, their version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight can't seem to decide whether it wants to be the definitive version of the song or a spoof of the song. The schizophrenic quality of their version makes the song fail on both fronts.

The original song Cruel Kindness and it's Italian Reprise at the close of the album reminded me a lot of Invictus (and it's reprise) from KiCKSHAW's Superstar CD. Cruel Kindness and the Invictus Reprise both feature chant-like vocals as the background with modern pop vocals. But while KiCKSHAW's Invictus unaugmented chants were rather dull, InsideOut's Italian Reprise is engaging and flows nicely. Comparisons to KiCKSHAW aside, the group that InsideOut most resembles is the Nylons. At their best, the Nylons have a similarly relaxed approach. The bottom line is that although the disc is too eclectic for its own good, it's still a must-buy for Nylons fans.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Oh L'amour 3
2 Dreamer 3
3 Love, Me 3
4 What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy) 4
5 Cruel Kindness 3
6 Jackie Chan 2
7 Silence 3
8 Come Thou Fount 3
9 Stalking Song 1
10 Lion Sleeps Tonight 4
11 Cruel Kindness (Italian Reprise) 3

InsideOut's Experience is a nice album that shows the enormous potential of this young group.

The thing that impressed me the most was the musical ability of this group. The voices fit together in a way that is usually reserved for groups that have been singing decades together. It sounds like they really know each other and have practiced a lot to find this fine sound. From rock to traditional, these guys never let down.

It's also nice to see a group with a sense of humor really stick their necks out. While I did not particularly enjoy Jackie Chan or The Stalking Song, I respect InsideOut for trying something different. Each of these has a collegiate a cappella feel to it that I'm sure works with an audience, but doesn't translate well to a recording.

I'd also like to quickly mention The Lion Sleeps Tonight. It is one of those standards that can really put a damper on a recording. I always say, if you're going to do a song like this, you have to do it better than anyone else. I was surprised to find that this is one of the better versions I've heard, and I am glad it was included here.

While the music was impressive, the words that went along with the music were not. A perfect example of this is Silence. When I first heard the song, it was beautiful, but then I listened to the words. Like most of the other selections, they were really sappy. Example: "In the silence all I hear is the burning of the candles." I thought maybe it was because I'm a guy, but I showed it to some of my female friends and they agreed with me. Once I realized what the lyrics were, it made the album difficult to listen to. That was the main reason that it became an average album as opposed to a good one.

Other than this problem, I enjoyed this album, and I am excited to see what happens with this group as they mature.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Oh L'amour 4
2 Dreamer 3
3 Love, Me 3
4 What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy) 3
5 Cruel Kindness 3
6 Jackie Chan 3
7 Silence 4
8 Come Thou Fount 3
9 Stalking Song 2
10 Lion Sleeps Tonight 3
11 Cruel Kindness (Italian Reprise) 2

InsideOut, an all-men sextet out of Provo, Utah, occupies that oh-so-special place in the a cappella world, that of the "semi-professional" group. They cannot be granted the critical forgiveness of being simple collegians, but neither can they be fairly compared to any of the first-rate professional groups out there setting the standard for singing, writing, and recording.

There are some high points. The opening track, a cover of Erasure's Oh L'Amour is a delight, featuring a catchy, simple arrangement reminiscent of The Blenders. Overall, the percussion is tight, though far from spectacular, and the soloists are fine. The album also features a few originals, the best being Kimball Brown's Silence.

Overall, this album stands as a show-seller, a souvenir for the crowd to pick up in the lobby on their way out. Songs that probably fly in front of a crowd fall pretty flat on this record, most notably the two novelty songs, Jackie Chan (done to Abba's Take a Chance) and The Stalking Song (new ethically-questionable lyrics for Happy Together).


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Oh L'amour 3
2 Dreamer 5
3 Love, Me 4
4 What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy) 4
5 Cruel Kindness 4
6 Jackie Chan 5
7 Silence 4
8 Come Thou Fount 4
9 Stalking Song 3
10 Lion Sleeps Tonight 2
11 Cruel Kindness (Italian Reprise) 4

It's become an a cappella cliché to praise a new CD by noting the variety of the set list, by which we usually mean it has a couple of '80s songs, a Rockapella cover, some recent Top 40, and a jazz standard of the Tuxedo Junction school.

Experience, the second release from the genre-leaping sextet InsideOut, takes a giant step away from the usual notion of "variety". What other group segues from a heartfelt Christian hymn to a bouncy cover extolling the joys of stalking? They sound equally at home in the weepy Love, Me (the a cappella equivalent of the movie Beaches) and in a loopy ABBA parody reminding us that Jackie Chan could cream the Karate Kid ("Wax on...wax off..."). I call that thematic range.

Despite the diverse subject matter, InsideOut has a distinctive sound marked by beautiful tuning, unpretentious arrangements, and a what-you-see-is-what-you-get musical personality. The soloists are uniformly competent, but only one individual, bass Ryan Hinton, shines. Someone get this man an octave pedal before he hurts himself! So many groups get by with closet baritones holding up the "bass" end, but there's nothing like the seismic rumble of the genuine article.

Judging from the three Kimball Brown originals here, InsideOut should think about weaning itself off covers, at least on their CDs. Dreamer features the catchiest chorus on the disk, and both versions of Cruel Kindness have lovely layers of harmony that show off the group's natural blend. The vocally pure Come Thou Fount has the same virtue. It's stunning how many musically talented pop groups can't tune a hymn to save their souls. InsideOut can, complete with enough genuine feeling to make the song accessible to a secular audience.

Everything I disliked came late in the set list. The time has come for an international moratorium on covers of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. A mere solid rendition (which this is) is not enough to justify its inclusion when years of rampant abuse from every rung of the a cappella ladder have beaten the poor song to death. It may be a crowd-pleaser, but we don't need another digital recording of adults making jungle noises.

I'm also no fan of the Stalking Song, not because it's un-PC, but because the joke gets stale halfway through the first chorus and there's little else to the song. The dialogue at the end may work live, but it's stiff and awkwardly recorded. Speaking of which, I hope InsideOut includes a live track or two on the next album. I'd love to hear these guys reacting to an enthusiastic crowd.

Experience isn't a must-buy for the average listener, but it is a terrific option for fans of either cover songs or contemporary Christian a cappella who are thinking of expanding their collections into the other genre.

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