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The Beelzebubs

Tufts University

Code Red (2003)

5.0

June 9, 2003

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Mr. Roboto (Styx) 5.0
2 Shining Star (Earth, Wind & Fire) 4.7
3 Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinéad O'Connor) 4.3
4 Machinehead (Bush) 4.7
5 Hott In Herre (Nelly) 4.7
6 The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra) 4.3
7 Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne) 4.3
8 Take Me Home (Phil Collins) 4.7
9 Sell Out (Reel Big Fish) 4.7
10 Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins) 4.0
11 You Should Be Dancing (Bee Gees) 4.7

Recorded 2003
Total time: 44:36, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Mr. Roboto (Styx) 5
2 Shining Star (Earth, Wind & Fire) 5
3 Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinéad O'Connor) 4
4 Machinehead (Bush) 5
5 Hott In Herre (Nelly) 4
6 The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra) 4
7 Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne) 4
8 Take Me Home (Phil Collins) 5
9 Sell Out (Reel Big Fish) 5
10 Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins) 3
11 You Should Be Dancing (Bee Gees) 5

I played The Beelzebubs' new album for a friend of mine, who said "Wow! It's amazing they can make themselves sound like that. At their shows, can they do the same thing to their appearance, and make themselves all look like Lara Croft?". I had to admit, it was an intriguing thought.

This is an exceedingly digitized album. In the opening song, Mr. Roboto, it's to the point where I thought, "Oh cool, a synthesizer. when do they fade to the voices?" Oh, those *are* the voices. Or what's left of them.

If you like that sort of thing and have an open mind about the past 20 years of top 40, this is a pretty fun album. There's a pleasant amount of gender bending, always a plus for a male group. If college boys in drag can't get a laugh, we're all in the wrong business. And if they didn't dress up for the vamp in Nelly's Hott in Herre, then we're really in the wrong business.

The song list is all over the map, but it congeals thanks to two factors: that digitized thing, of course, and semi-ironic cultural references. The opening bass of Crazy Train is amusingly reminiscent of the Bon Jovi bass line from Living on a Prayer, and the muted horns on The Way You Look Tonight could just as easily have been taken from Manamana, the Muppet Show classic. The vocal percussion is of the Totally '80s variety, but pleasantly layered and generally in character. I even liked one of the soloists, Mike Flynn's terrific tenor on Take Me Home.

So it's a good album for a bunch of college singers, but I think they go overboard. If it sounds too much like the real thing, it loses some of the fun. A cappella straddles a gap; on one side is the out of tune, unprocessed vocal-guitar-solo-from hell, but on the other is a collection of computer bleeps that is equally unrecognizable. The happy medium is Vox One's Paul Stiller, singing guitar solos live through a distortion mic, captured on the sublime recordings of yore. When it comes down to it, this is still about making cool sounds with your mouth, not a computer, and the best producers let that shine through all the special effects.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Mr. Roboto (Styx) 5
2 Shining Star (Earth, Wind & Fire) 5
3 Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinéad O'Connor) 5
4 Machinehead (Bush) 5
5 Hott In Herre (Nelly) 5
6 The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra) 5
7 Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne) 5
8 Take Me Home (Phil Collins) 5
9 Sell Out (Reel Big Fish) 5
10 Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins) 5
11 You Should Be Dancing (Bee Gees) 5

As Ted "Theodore" Logan would have said, this album is most excellent. Recorded in January 2003, and released soon thereafter, these men have set the bar for every male group who aspires to a BOCA 2004 track and CARA 2003 nominations. Before you hit the studio, pick up a copy of Code Red.

I can't really predict the BOCA track or CARA nominations for best song/arrangement, because there are so many possibilities. But I'll go out on a limb for best solo and cast my vote for Greg Binstock's heart-wrenching performance of Nothing Compares 2 U. Oh, Greg, you make my knees weak.

Produced by Deke Sharon, The Bubs use what studio magic has to offer with great results, and there is no question that the voices behind this production are very talented. Ed Boyer contributes many of the arrangements on their amazing set list, which includes songs by Earth, Wind & Fire, Ozzy Osbourne, The Bee Gees, Nelly, and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Kevin Kitchel drew different comic book characters (in the vein of the X-Men) to represent each group member. While I can guess at who a few of them represent, I would like a numbered explanation on the website, please. Thank you.

To The Bubs: I'm sure you know this already, but your album kicks some serious ass. To the fans: Be sure to buy this album. While all the best movies are released late in the year to be fresh in minds of Oscar voters, Code Red is an early release that won't be forgotten come BOCA/CARA time.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Mr. Roboto (Styx) 5
2 Shining Star (Earth, Wind & Fire) 4
3 Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinéad O'Connor) 4
4 Machinehead (Bush) 4
5 Hott In Herre (Nelly) 5
6 The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra) 4
7 Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne) 4
8 Take Me Home (Phil Collins) 4
9 Sell Out (Reel Big Fish) 4
10 Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins) 4
11 You Should Be Dancing (Bee Gees) 4

Who are these superhumans? Whether by machine, superhero, or mortal man, The Beelzebubs have blended the simple human voice with excellent studio work to create an unconventional album that does much more with less.

On Code Red, The Beelzebubs fly in the face of collegiate a cappella arranging tradition, abandoning complex, choral backgrounds for a simple, instrumental feel. Usually, we hear just bass, percussion, and three or four vocal parts at one time, rather than the multi-voicing that is common. Only four songs sound anything like an a cappella choir (Nothing Compares 2 U, Take Me Home, The Way You Look Tonight, and Disarm). Code Red falls nearer the vocal band sound than big group choral a cappella.

Like a vocal band, The Beelzebubs make extensive use of effects processing to make vocal parts sound like a synth-keyboard (Mr. Roboto), funked-out rhythm guitar and bass (Shining Star), grunge-crunch guitar (Machinehead), hip hop slap bass (Hott in Herre), shaker (Crazy Train), and various electric guitars. The instrumental sounds on the album are occasionally so convincing that Code Red raises the old debate about the role of imitating instruments in a cappella. The studio work features excellent use of delay and reverb. Some solos were double-tracked for that major label soloist sound (Crazy Train, Machinehead), and feature equalization tricks of the trade. Soloist voices have excellent color and clarity. Most, if not all, of the vocal percussion is sampled and sequenced. The consistently interesting percussion sounds and computer-driven precision adds to the album's polish.

Code Red features well-known but little-covered songs presented in interesting ways. The album feels fresh and creative because of the combination of song choice and the group's stripped-down arranging style, high sound effects, and energetic singing. The group has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor heard in the nasally brass sections of The Way You Look Tonight and the hilarious man-floozy of Hott in Herre. Only time will tell, but Code Red may very well feature the seminal a cappella versions of Mr. Roboto and Hott in Herre.

Musically, there are almost exclusively good things to say about the album. Aside from a few minorly flat solo moments, the intonation is excellent. Energetic and stylish soloists range from polished to manic, soulful to introspective, grinding to wailing. The group's entrances and cutoffs are flawless. Good dynamics help the arrangements build. Blend is almost an afterthought because it's so good.

Maybe the atmospherics of Mr. Roboto or the danceable bass and deep lyrics of Hott in Herre will inspire you to rethink a cappella as a musical style. If not, Code Red is still a fun romp through an eclectic selection of songs. Very entertaining and musically excellent, Code Red earns a worthy spot in both collegiate and vocal band a cappella collections.


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