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RARB REVIEW

School: University of Pennsylvania
Group: Off the Beat
Album: Where's the Band?

Ordering Information

Total time: 64:33, 15 songs.
Tracks 4, 8, 11, 14 recorded 1991
Tracks 2, 5, 9, 15 recorded 1992
Tracks 1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13 recorded 1993


Track Listing

  1. Freedom '90 (7.8)
  2. Would I Lie to You (6.6)
  3. Under The Bridge (7.2)
  4. Don't Leave Me This Way (5.6)
  5. Like A Prayer (6.8)
  6. One (7.8)
  7. I Can't Make You Love Me (6.6)
  8. Black Coffee In Bed (6.0)
  9. Don't You Forget About Me (5.8)
  10. Walking on Broken Glass (5.8)
  11. Life in One Day (4.8)
  12. Africa (6.4)
  13. Boys of Summer (8.3)
  14. Love Shack (4.8)
  15. Jack and Diane (5.4)

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. BLARING!!! They are so loud that it's painful at times. If they would just tone it down a little, especially on the choruses, they could avoid the "wall of sound" effect they often suffer from — you can't hear the more interesting things in the background because they're drowned out by the rest of it blasting. All their arrangements sound alike (despite the fact that this album features songs from the past three years of Off the Beat), a weird mix of choral and pop/rock sounds, with choppy, rushed basslines and choir-like singing above them, with somewhat arbitrary percussion. For the most part they have strong and clear voices though, particularly the women. Their soloists share a general tendency to make up for a lack of emotion with sheer volume, and so several songs which have the potential to be quite good if the solo was more expressive are merely all right. They would be greatly improved by the addition of another bass or two. With a few exceptions, the songs get progressively better chronologically, with the ones from '91 being the worst and those from '93 the best. Their song choices get a little repetitive in ' that they're all pop/rock/alternative, and — especially with the choral sound they often have — it might be nice to hear them try a different kind of music. Overall this album is decent, with some songs that have innovative arrangements and good soloists, and some that have weak and/or annoying solos and cluttered and uninteresting arrangements.
    Rating: 6 (4.8)

  2. As the CAN mentioned, you can definitely see a progression in this group from year to year — the newer songs are very tight, excellent percussion and soloists, and multi-layered complex arrangements. If you like mixed groups and like pop songs, this album is for you. I look forward to hearing their next album.
    Rating: 7 (6.3)

  3. Blend and ensemble are wonderful; dynamic control is also good; occasional intonation glitches are confined to the highest registers. The soloists are uniformly outstanding — expressive and dynamic. Off the Beat seems to prefer imitative arrangements. They have enough voices to cover the original instrumentation pretty faithfully, but after awhile I find this sort arrangement becomes a bit too predictable. Do the Basses ever sing anything other than "dm-dm-dm"?
    Rating: 8 (7.5)

  4. These folks are good when they're good. More than a couple of the songs on the album really stand out as greats (note they got a CARA award for one). Among the rest, there are some good songs, and some real klunkers. I give them some points for originality, and points for some good arrangements, and points for some plain good singing.
    Rating: 7 (6.6)

  5. There was one very annoying thing about this album.... The majority of the arrangements were FAR too busy, almost as if they were out to impress those knowledgeable in a cappella on how well they can sing complex arrangements. But in things like "Broken Glass" it's almost too much, and their better stuff is simple stuff like "Jack and Diane" (with "Africa" and "Boys" being the exceptions) On the whole, though, I can see why this album won the CARAS. I enjoyed it.
    Rating: 8 (6.7)

  1. Freedom '90 (7.8)
    1. A song I would not have thought would work a cappella, but does surprisingly well. The percussion is the best on this entire album, and very nice in general. Arrangement more coherent and less busy than theirs often are, interesting/good use of trios and echoing the soloist, however somewhat wimpy choice of syllables ('doo-dit'). The solo is pretty good, in parts better than the original (but that says more about George Michael than Off the Beat). The bassline isn't low enough to be really effective. Incredibly long, but it works better than many of the others because the arrangement changes.
      Rating: 7

    2. Excellent solo, interesting arrangement. Unique percussion at the beginning is drowned out when the voices come in. Great lead-off track.
      Rating: 8

    3. Interesting vocal/body percussion. I was impressed by the fact that blend and balance were maintained through dynamic changes and some fairly long slides. The 2-voice unison which appears in the background near the end of the song was perfect from entrance to cutoff!
      Rating: 8

    4. Very nice
      Rating: 8

    5. For a song that is rapidly approaching "Only You" status as far as covers go... not too shabby :) They do the majority of the song justice, and the soloist is very good. My problems with this arrangement...and with most of the others.. come in generalities at the end of the review.....I like the song, even though every group I listen to seems to do it.....
      Rating: 8

  2. Would I Lie to You (6.6)
    1. Sort of typical of them — the beginning is too loud, the solo is pretty good, nicely soulful but she's too loud too, the arrangement is cluttered and sometimes annoying but parts of it are decent, overall sound is fairly screechy.
      Rating: 5

    2. Great solo voice, neat idea to have the guys sing off-beat staccato chords against the rest of the background. Good energy.
      Rating: 7

    3. I wasn't quite convinced of the intonation in the upper voices in the introductory chords. The arrangement was a bit busy for my personal preference. It probably follows the original pretty closely, but the result is more of a dance-style piece than a concert piece.
      Rating: 7

    4. Very powerful, and nicely done.
      Rating: 9

    5. This is, IMHO, a really bad song to cover a cappella....one of my groups did it and I was the unlucky soul who had to cover vocal percussion....no human being can reproduce, by himself or themselves, the fire of the original, and while the arrangement was inventive, for me at least, a cover has to approach the sound of the original.
      Rating: 5

  3. Under The Bridge (7.2)
    1. The very beginning of the arrangement works for me, then it gets a little too choral, but recovers. The bass is strangely sporadic, as is the percussion. The solo is trying too hard to sound like Anthony Keidis, but the chorus is very clean and coherent for this group. I like this arrangement — for them, it's understated and tasteful.
      Rating: 7

    2. Very good imitative arrangement with excellent use of alternate syllables like "ching ching cho". Good soloist. Overall the song is as good as the original.
      Rating: 8

    3. Nice, relatively sparse arrangement. The Lead voice presents and excellent contrast to the background. The intonation is very occasionally a bit dicey in the upper voices.
      Rating: 7

    4. Very creative arrangement, but somehow fails to catch the spirit of the original.
      Rating: 7

    5. A solid arrangement of a very a cappella friendly song. The soloist manages to get a lot of the feeling behind the words across, and the background isn't as intrusive as it is elsewhere....
      Rating: 7

  4. Don't Leave Me This Way (5.6)
    1. I hate this song. I can't tell if it's the song itself or their rendition of it, because I don't think I've ever heard the original, but their arrangement is certainly annoying and at times unintentionally amusing (the 'badup-bow's in the chorus). The recording quality on this song is different than on the rest of the album — it sounds like they're in a bathroom. David Quart is more-or-less horrible on his part of the solo; his voice is weak, nasal and utterly without charm. The song/arrangement degenerates into chaos at one point, but then recovers, but things only get worse after the key change — I can't exactly tell why, possibly pitch problems.
      Rating: 2

    2. Solos do a good job and the chorus is catchy, but otherwise one-dimensional. Mixing (reverb) makes it sound muddy.
      Rating: 5

    3. Another dance number. The tightness of the occasional multi-voiced parts in the background is very impressive; the intonation in the higher harmony isn't.
      Rating: 7

    4. Very energetic
      Rating: 8

    5. Not bad....not great either. Again, this really can't approach the Communards vision, and unless there's a real original take on a song, it's kinda hard to swallow a substandard copy. What they do do with the song, though, is solid.
      Rating: 6

  5. Like A Prayer (6.8)
    1. The bassline is really choppy and rushed, someone drops out at the end so that there's only one bass and he sounds weak by himself, as well as sticking out horribly. The percussion is actually somewhat inventive, but seems a little too frenetic for the song because it's the only part that has any energy. Solo manages to be at once loud and bored/boring — there's no life to it. This whole song is like that in that it would be so much improved by a little energy. Plus it goes on for _much_ too long.
      Rating: 3

    2. Great job with solo, great job with percussion, though this is again mixed a little too low. Good, multilayered arrangement.
      Rating: 7

    3. The opening chords are great despite one or two precarious chord changes. The change in texture from introduction to song was very effective. I think I would have liked this arrangement better if there had been more acute changes of feel in the rest of the piece, but it's still a good one.
      Rating: 8

    4. Good, and it really moves, though the bassline is occasionally annoying.
      Rating: 8

    5. EXCELLENT arrangement.....this is one of the best on the album. Lots of power, and some very imaginative backgrounds..."Diggin' Madonna" indeed!!!!!
      Rating: 8

  6. One (7.8)
    1. The song starts out pretty much as one would expect an a cappella rendition of this song to sound in that it just imitates without conveying the real emotional power of the original. The solo is pretty good but would be so much more powerful if it were subtler and more sensitive, as well as more varied in terms of feeling and tone. The arrangement improves markedly on the first chorus, with cool soprano lines and trios echoing off of the solo. Neat insertion of "With or Without You" and "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" in the background. The end is interesting and effective but the suddenly isolated percussion is only distracting.
      Rating: 8

    2. Great arrangement, great studio mix, good soloist, good integrated perc, good tuning and blend. Like many of otb's songs, this one keeps getting better as the song progresses. May be the best song on the album.
      Rating: 8

    3. My favorite parts of this one were the vocal percussion and the ending.
      Rating: 7

    4. Great, except weak in some places
      Rating: 7

    5. This song is exactly what I'm talking about when discussing how an arrangement or performance of a song should GRIP you......the arrangement nearly surpasses the original as far as sheer power and emotion goes, and the final push at the end sends shivers down my spine.
      Rating: 9

  7. I Can't Make You Love Me (6.6)
    1. The percussion in this one is much more subtle, and works much better. Arrangement too stop-and-go for this song. Solo is nice and sensitive yet soulful. This song gets kind of boring after about half its (again ridiculously long) length. I'm not sure that this song works a cappella anyway, and they didn't convince me. Suddenly towards the end they all start blasting in near unison, then (thankfully) pull back, and the ending is actually quite nice, the solo very sweet.
      Rating: 6

    2. Great song choice, good soloist. This one can really grab at the heartstrings. Excellent use of dynamics.
      Rating: 7

    3. The gentle handling of background and lead are lovely.
      Rating: 8

    4. Good, but didn't thrill me.
      Rating: 6

    5. The 6 is because technically it's done very well...good dynamic control. Personally, though, I don't care for the song....
      Rating: 6

  8. Black Coffee In Bed (6.0)
    1. Seems sort of rushed, arrangement mediocre-to-weak, sounds again like they only have one bass. Solo okay but overly brassy for the song. Overall somehow unappealing. Weird contrast between the choral background sound and the poppy soloist.
      Rating: 5

    2. If you've heard this done a cappella before, there are no surprises. Arrangement and soloist are both pretty ordinary.
      Rating: 5

    3. A well-performed piece, but it lacks excitement and consequently falls a bit flat.
      Rating: 7

    4. Good
      Rating: 7

    5. This is the opposite of #7....I LOVE the song personally, but this is a fairly simple arrangement by the standards of what I've heard elsewhere on this disc......kinda bland.
      Rating: 6

  9. Don't You Forget About Me (5.8)
    1. Arrangement is occasionally interesting (some dynamics) and the usual choppy bass line is almost smoothed over by the held notes of the other parts. Solo is all right but not particularly well done. The percussion fades in and out of the mix, seeming random and not quite effective. The sopranos are so high on the chorus that they sound sort of stupid. As a whole it doesn't stand out as being more than tolerable.
      Rating: 4

    2. Soloist ok, though flat in a coupla places. Energy level sagging, but picks up by the end.
      Rating: 6

    3. The usual thing, with some nice changes in feel
      Rating: 8

    4. doesn't have "that mood" the original did
      Rating: 6

    5. This is a perfect example of a performance not measuring up to the original. There was so much that could have been done to enhance this, but it escaped. On a good note, though, the soloist was EXCELLENT!!!!!
      Rating: 5

  10. Walking on Broken Glass (5.8)
    1. The beginning is nice, but then it gets weird with unnecessarily dramatic crescendos, in general though the arrangement is pretty good, at times a little too blaring. Also their use of the background echoing sounds inappropriate when they're saying things like "bleed, bleed, bleed". The solo is relatively strong — she handles the extreme lows and highs of the song easily, however with a little more sensitivity it would be amazing instead of merely good. I think this song works better than "Would I Lie to You?" and that two Annie Lennox songs on the same album is gratuitous.
      Rating: 6

    2. This is one of those songs like Yes' "Leave It" — doesn't seem to translate well (at least imitatively) energy-wise. Solo ok, very good middle section.
      Rating: 6

    3. Some annoyingly persistent intonation problems in the introduction and an arrangement which sounds uncomfortable to sing were working against this one.
      Rating: 6

    4. Decently done, but annoying
      Rating: 5

    5. A song that is RAPIDLY reaching overcovered status, and a really annoying one to boot. I dislike the song so much that I truly feel I cannot give an objective rating to the performance...sorry :)
      Rating: none

  11. Life in One Day (4.8)
    1. The beginning sounds discombobulated, the arrangement in general is haphazard and not very well thought out. Solo sort of weak in a vaguely over-enunciated and quavery way. The use of studio effects on one voice is glaringly obvious and (I think) unnecessary. The percussion in the end is not integrated well with the song at all. Blend is particularly bad on this song.
      Rating: 2

    2. Nice solo voice, but overall rendition is too dead especially for a Howard Jones song. Couple blending/intonation probs.
      Rating: 4

    3. A welcome change in feel from most of the rest of the album.
      Rating: 8

    4. Weak, with tuning problems
      Rating: 4

    5. It was OK...not great....but OK...Fun song, but not much can really be done with it.
      Rating: 6

  12. Africa (6.4)
    1. Arrangement overly choral in the beginning, and generally not well suited to the song, although it has interesting aspects, namely the nice soprano line in the verses. Solo is overdone and unattractive. Severe blaring on chorus, near the end the song deteriorates into confusion, then recovers.
      Rating: 3

    2. During the verses, the upper womens parts to an excellent job with blending and tone, and they handle the middle guitar section with ease (not an easy thing). Very good lead ins to the chorus.
      Rating: 7

    3. Best recording I've heard of this. The arrangement contains a couple of new ideas, and the energy level is higher than it generally is for this piece.
      Rating: 8

    4. A bit hokey
      Rating: 5

    5. My god........this opening came out of NOWHERE!!!!! GREAT way to start the song....would've LOVED to have been in the audience for this one. And unlike the last version, these guys had the testicular fortitude to try the instrument section :) :) :). Overall, a FANTASTIC arrangement.
      Rating: 9

  13. Boys of Summer (8.3)
    1. The percussion in the beginning is well done. Their style of arranging suits this song, especially since they don't rush it. A song that I would never have thought would be good a cappella, but they make me believe it. Arrangement gets a little busy on the chorus, but they pull back for the verses. I like the solo a lot — the flat tone of her voice suits the song well, and she almost speaks the last word of each line. It's very sensitively done, and I like it that it's sung by a woman even though they (obviously) could have had a man sing it. Her voice sounds better than Don Henley's (again, that's not saying much). This and "One" are my two favorite songs on this album.
      Rating: 8

    2. Amazing effects and mixdown for the vocal percussion, group does a good job in bringing across the mood in this imitative arrangement.
      Rating: 8

    3. I like the sense of control throughout this piece — the background which is held back under the verses but doesn't allow the intensity to flag, until it breaks through on the chorus.
      Rating: 8

    4. nifty percussion, singing could be a tiny bit stronger.
      Rating: 8.5

    5. The only reason this didn't get a 10 is my ambivalence towards the song itself. Everything else is EXQUISITE....beyond words....Makes me wonder why the album didn't end here....
      Rating: 9

  14. Love Shack (4.8)
    1. This song is so incredibly annoying that I can't imagine anyone wanting to do it a cappella in the first place, but this is also a particularly irritating version of the song. The arrangement is both screechy and boring. The solo is campy but in a sort of unconvincing way; it also changes style and accent unpredictably. At points the women in the background are blasting so loudly that it hurts my throat to listen to them. They don't blend very well at all on this song. Overall this song does not work in so many different ways that it's impossible to give it anything higher than a 1.
      Rating: 1

    2. An ok performance of an ok arrangement of a song that I can no longer stand.
      Rating: 4

    3. I really like the lead, here.
      Rating: 8

    4. Good here, it must kick ass live!
      Rating: 8

    5. This arrangement is pathetic...no verve, no life, no drive. And the fill stuff is just TOO WEIRD......I didn't like this one at all....
      Rating: 3

  15. Jack and Diane (5.4)
    1. The beginning is mildly interesting, and the single bass actually works in this part — perhaps because it is (un)intentionally amusing. Then the arrangement becomes overly choral again, so much so that the solo sounds ridiculously rock-like against it, and the solo is pretty much imitative of John Cougar Mellencamp anyway. The bridge towards the end is slightly more interesting (despite the clapping out of synch at one point) but this is not a particularly exciting rendition of a not exactly made-for-acappella song in the first place.
      Rating: 5

    2. A boring performance of a boring arrangement of a great song that they basically ruined. The one exception is an excellent solo. Why end a good album on such a bummer?
      Rating: 4

    3. Once again, excellent control of dynamics, blend and feel throughout this piece.
      Rating: 8

    4. Not! Major tuning problems, and everything about this version is annoying.
      Rating: 3

    5. Good, simple powerchord arrangement that really hammers a point home...although I HATED the way they ended it.....:)
      Rating: 7

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