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Talk To The Hand

The Royal Whee! (2006)

2.7

September 2, 2006

Tuning / Blend 3.0
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 3.0
Repeat Listenability 2.0
Tracks
1 Come On Over Baby 3.3
2 Love Is A Battlefield 2.7
3 Our Lips Are Sealed 2.7
4 Rock The Boat 2.7
5 Thorn In My Side 2.7
6 Cruel To Be Kind 3.0
7 Fall On Me 3.0
8 Got To Get You Into My Life 2.7
9 Cherish 2.7
10 No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) 2.7
11 I Touch Myself 2.7
12 Separate Ways 3.0
13 There's A Kind of Hush 3.0
14 I'd Run Away 3.0
15 Little Goodbyes 3.0
16 I Am So Ordinary 2.7
17 Everything You Want 2.7
18 I Think I'm Paranoid 2.7
19 Mother, Mother 3.0
20 It's Raining Men 2.7

Recorded 2003 – 2005
Total time: 65:10, 20 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Come On Over Baby 3
2 Love Is A Battlefield 2
3 Our Lips Are Sealed 2
4 Rock The Boat 2
5 Thorn In My Side 2
6 Cruel To Be Kind 3
7 Fall On Me 3
8 Got To Get You Into My Life 2
9 Cherish 2
10 No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) 2
11 I Touch Myself 2
12 Separate Ways 3
13 There's A Kind of Hush 3
14 I'd Run Away 3
15 Little Goodbyes 3
16 I Am So Ordinary 3
17 Everything You Want 2
18 I Think I'm Paranoid 2
19 Mother, Mother 3
20 It's Raining Men 2

Talk to the Hand's The Royal Whee! is the kind of album that makes people scoff at a cappella. The album will forcibly roll the eyes of experienced a cappella listeners and will reinforce the perception of the aca-ignorant public that a cappella is for dorks.

The group's choice of name — an outdated girlpower phrase — and the album's lavender color and floating princess heads were warning to me to recon the track list before playing the album in public.

Come On Over Baby leads off the album. I carefully turned down the volume and closed my office door, expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised with the pretty voices of Talk to the Hand, but even colorful, mature female voices can't save bad arrangements of bad songs.

It's difficult to characterize a monster tracklist of 20 songs, but the contrast of embittered, man-hating songs and attempts at sultry allure left me confused. This is a repertoire of women sympathizing with other women about men while simultaneously attempting to bed them. The group attempts too much, and it's not a track list I feel most men can relate to or enjoy. No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) and It's Raining Men? Come On Over Baby and Love Is A Battlefield? I Am So Ordinary and I Touch Myself?

Talk to the Hand's arrangements are out of touch with today's body of a cappella. With just four voices and no studio doubletracking, the group has created very thin arrangements that maximize the exposure of individual voices. The ear hears solo, occasional solo harmony, one suspended note that follows the contour of the original song's chord progression (always on "doo" or "bah"), and some forced-sounding bassline ("doom doom doom doom") or embarassingly weak vocal percussion ("doove chikkuh"). Talk to the Hand is not singing as a group, it's several individuals singing scarcely related notes at the same time.

As individuals, the ladies have pleasant voices and the studio was smart to emphasize them. But what the ladies have in vocal endowment, they lack in diversity of style and technique. Talk to the Hand's voices are fairly alike in vocal tone and style. You can hear the difference in tone between the higher voices and the altos, but these singers are not differentiating how they sing or pulling off the styles required of songs like I Think I'm Paranoid or I Touch Myself. Worse yet, the soloists' phrasing and delivery is very literal, with songs like Our Lips Are Sealed, Rock The Boat, Cherish, and Everything You Want straight and stiff. One of the four singers has a clearly undersupported tone, and her straining in her higher range made me wince.

Talk to the Hand insists on barren arrangements. Chords are either extremely narrow with four voices crammed into the same tonal and pitch space, spread so widely that notes sound barely related, or simply non-existent with three notes never sung at the same time. Throw in some bad judgement calls like a cat meow in Come On Over Baby, a instrumental kazoo solo in the bridge of Thorn In My Side, horror movie screaming against the otherwise very un-edgy background voices of Mother, Mother, and soul-less banter leading in It's Raining Men, and The Royal Whee! becomes very difficult to tolerate.

Talk to the Hand needs to add at least one voice, enrich its harmonies and layering, listen to good a cappella arrangements, and focus its repertoire. If you're prone to phrases like, "You go, girl!", "Talk to the hand!", or "Rock on with your bad self!", then maybe you've got the spunk — and the bad taste — to stomach The Royal Whee!.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Come On Over Baby 4
2 Love Is A Battlefield 3
3 Our Lips Are Sealed 3
4 Rock The Boat 3
5 Thorn In My Side 3
6 Cruel To Be Kind 3
7 Fall On Me 3
8 Got To Get You Into My Life 3
9 Cherish 3
10 No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) 3
11 I Touch Myself 3
12 Separate Ways 3
13 There's A Kind of Hush 3
14 I'd Run Away 3
15 Little Goodbyes 3
16 I Am So Ordinary 2
17 Everything You Want 3
18 I Think I'm Paranoid 3
19 Mother, Mother 3
20 It's Raining Men 3

I have to admit, things weren't looking good for Talk to the Hand from the beginning. Between the group name and the album name, The Royal Whee!, I wasn't starting off with high expectations. When the CD finally arrived, things took a turn sour. Packaged completely in purple, the cover looks like a mix between an acid trip and an Orbitz gum commercial. The liner notes did little to assuage my feeling that I was about to subject myself to four people's yearbook pet project.

Then I heard the music, and these four women can sing. While things drift a little further from home the deeper one gets into the album, the group blends pretty well and can sing in tune. They trade solos throughout the album, with each singer showing off some lead chops. Which is a good thing, because there is nothing for the singers to hide behind. No effects, no post-production, no guest artists. Just these four ladies chugging through twenty covers.

Maybe I have become brainwashed by the modern canon, but I found this album interminably long. Of the thousands I have listened to, there are maybe a handful of pop/rock albums I've ever heard that I could listen to straight through for 65 minutes, and clearly this isn't one of them. And while I appreciate Talk to the Hand showing off their pipes au naturel, it gets really boring. The sound is just so relentless and uniform. Nothing stands out. The originals themselves tend to blend into each other and the arrangements only further this.

Talk to the Hand, while palatable in small doses, needs to seriously branch out if they ever want people to listen to their music recorded. A good start would be more full-bodied arranging, and I think their sound would also migrate well into vocal jazz. Whatever it takes to break up the monotony, I think there is enough talent there to make the next album worth taking a second look.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Come On Over Baby 3
2 Love Is A Battlefield 3
3 Our Lips Are Sealed 3
4 Rock The Boat 3
5 Thorn In My Side 3
6 Cruel To Be Kind 3
7 Fall On Me 3
8 Got To Get You Into My Life 3
9 Cherish 3
10 No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) 3
11 I Touch Myself 3
12 Separate Ways 3
13 There's A Kind of Hush 3
14 I'd Run Away 3
15 Little Goodbyes 3
16 I Am So Ordinary 3
17 Everything You Want 3
18 I Think I'm Paranoid 3
19 Mother, Mother 3
20 It's Raining Men 3

ALBUM>The Royal Whee falls squarely into my average category but not for the reasons you might think.

These four ladies aren't afraid to sing out and they bring an enthusiastic feel to the songs. I had fun because they were having fun. They are soft and light when need be and tough and edgy when they want to be. The screams and tormented singing in Mother Mother show just how far they are willing to go for the song.

Despite this commitment to the music they also know not to take themselves too seriously. There is a section in Cruel to be Kind where the background is singing "chew-ba-ca", probably just to see they can get away with it. If that wasn't intentional then I may have just branded myself as a Star Wars geek. There is also what I can only assume is a tap dancing interlude in the same song. The arrangements are simple, but they manage to cover the basics of the song in four parts.

However...

Just because the ladies sing with edge doesn't mean that the song is edgy. The songs are arranged as if they were the upper parts of a larger coed group. As a result, most of the album sounds good but empty. A bass line and some full-blown mouth drumming would have erased the feeling that I was listening to half an album. Even if Talk to the Hand wanted to keep its all female sound, overdubbing a bunch of auxiliary harmonies could have brought the energy up just as well. It was probably a conscious decision not to take the jazzy, barbershoppy route that most female quartets take, and I applaud that choice, but I found myself largely unsatisfied by the continuous anticlimax. And by continuous, I mean twenty tracks of it. There is enough material here to split into at least two separate albums. It was hard for me to listen straight through without becoming numb. I got more out of The Royal Whee when I listened to it in five or six song shifts.

So here I sit badly wanting to root for "the Hand" knowing that they have to potential to be much more. The Royal Whee is enjoyable as a whole, but I'm filled with too many coulda-shoulda-wouldas to get excited about it.

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Ordering Information

To order this album, send a check for $15 payable to Liz Whitelam, to:
7 Gilmore Avenue
Reading, MA 01867

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