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Five O'Clock Shadow

So There (1998)

4.2

March 25, 1999

Tuning / Blend 4.8
Energy / Intensity 4.2
Innovation / Creativity 3.8
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 3.4
Tracks
1 Mine Tonight 4.6
2 What It's All About 4.6
3 Far Away 4.6
4 Hold Me For Awhile 4.2
5 Think of You 3.8
6 Stop And Say Hello 3.6
7 Move On 4.4
8 If You Could Only See 4.2
9 Get Down Tonight/That's the Way 4.4
10 Tribute 3.4

Recorded 1998
Total time: 39:16, 10 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Mine Tonight 4
2 What It's All About 4
3 Far Away 4
4 Hold Me For Awhile 4
5 Think of You 4
6 Stop And Say Hello 4
7 Move On 4
8 If You Could Only See 4
9 Get Down Tonight/That's the Way 4
10 Tribute 5

This is a review of an album, not a group.

Five O'Clock Shadow has undergone serious change over the last year or two, and I've heard only some of their incarnations. So So There may or may not represent anything like what FOCS sounds like now. Which could take the group either way.

So There is a good disc that never approaches greatness. Production is good, tuning is great, everything sounds nice. But nice is as good as it gets for the soloists and most of the songs. And the vocal percussion is downright dippy — sounds like a vocal drum machine, not a vocal percussion kit.

What FOCS lacked on this disc was a wailer — a standout soloist, a tune that transcends nice and sticks in your head. Granted, bland music has amassed legions of fans in the pop world — Toad the Wet Sprocket and their ilk come to mind — but I want more bite, more hook. (Ironically, FOCS previously recorded version of Toad's All I Want makes it more interesting and is one of their better covers, in my view.)

My favorite song on So There was the beautiful, sans-v.p. Tribute, which bears much more resemblance to a semi-traditional vocal group than the pop group FOCS is trying so hard to become. And Think of You, my favorite FOCS original, had its new arrangement and spiffy rendition marred by one of the least relevant drum tracks on the album.

If FOCS wants to go the rock'n'roll route, it needs two things: a deeper, fuller drum sound and a power soloist. Paul Pampinella has one of the sweetest voices you'll ever hear, but he can't quite carry a rocker, and the other FOCS soloists (all good singers) have the same issues. It's a sound much better suited to "soft rock" or "adult contemporary" music, even something a little jazzy. The most energetic (though still not overly so) songs on this disc have more than a slight 70s flair: the Get Down Tonight medley and original Stop and Say Hello. But I don't think that's the sound they're looking for, either.

Losing mouth drummer Wes Carroll not long before they recorded this disc was obviously a blow to Five O'Clock Shadow. Hopefully they've found a lineup that works for them by now, and hung on to the stage presence that was their forte even during rough periods. As for So There — I guarantee you won't hate it. But is "like" the strongest emotion you want from your music?


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Mine Tonight 5
2 What It's All About 4
3 Far Away 5
4 Hold Me For Awhile 4
5 Think of You 5
6 Stop And Say Hello 2
7 Move On 5
8 If You Could Only See 4
9 Get Down Tonight/That's the Way 4
10 Tribute 1

RARB scores albums based on "Tuning/Blend", Energy/intensity", "Innovation/creativity", "Sound/production", "Repeat listenability", and "Soloist". We're using this review of Five O'Clock Shadow's So There CD to try out some NEW scoring categories.

Songwriting: 3
The song writing on So There leans heavily toward middle-of-the-road Pop. (What makes the album stand out of the crowd is the fresh singing and top notch production.) What's it All About is pretty good until it foolishly puts the word "Zwané" into the chorus of an otherwise basically monosyllabic song. Two songs are actually bad: Stop and Say Hello wonders out loud why people aren't more friendly. It could have been interesting if it had a slightly skewed point of view, but basically it sincerely think that being friendly is good. Trite, but at least it's not on a larger scale (feeding starving people is good, for example). The Boys II Men-esq Tribute to friendship is so corny that even graduating high school students might think it's maudlin. On the plus side, Paul Pampinella, formally of Vox One, brings Move On into the FOCS repertoire.

Pouty Children: 5
She's on the cover and she's miffed! So there!

Engineering: 5
Joe Miraglilo mixed and engineered So There. He packed it full of lots of subtle, breathy vocals. The overall feel is slick yet never overstated. Pay close attention to the "phoned in" verse of Far Away.

Covers: 4
If You Could Only See and the hybrid of Get Down Tonight/That's the Way are both very polished, but it would be nice to hear a little less polish and a little more wailing.

Vocal Percussion: 5
FOCS has been pretty lucky with their VPs in the past, and interim drummer Samrat Chakrabarti turns in a performance that should make his predecessors proud. Jeff Thacher (now of Rockapella fame) has a gift for creating rich layers of sound with a wide range of percussion sounds. Wes Carroll (now doing his thing with The House Jacks) sticks to a simple kit drum sound and uses with the flair of a real power drummer. Samrat brings a gentle touch to the job. He's easy on the skins. He uses lots of snare drums and lots of brushes. The basic kick drum sound is downplayed for the sake of a smooth percussion sound that really blends in with the other vocals. He does such a good job of not being showy and staying in the background that he ends up being one of the best parts of the CD. You have to hand it to FOCS. They've had three ex-vocal percussionist, all wildly different, all wildly talented.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Mine Tonight 5
2 What It's All About 5
3 Far Away 5
4 Hold Me For Awhile 5
5 Think of You 5
6 Stop And Say Hello 5
7 Move On 5
8 If You Could Only See 5
9 Get Down Tonight/That's the Way 5
10 Tribute 5

So There is a joy to listen to, and hard to review.

A wonderful studio album that has mostly original music, it is really good. Its hard to complain about an album put together as well as this one is. The production gives FOCS a really sophisticated sound that is full of effects, pushing the concept of the vocal band to some impressive heights. The music is a rich pop/rock sound full of some pretty intricate harmonies and rhythms. The songs all have impressive arrangements that really provide a balanced presentation. The soloists are all solid. The vocal percussion is sometimes understated and always appropriate. There is nothing that I can find that is wrong with this album. That is a great feeling.

There are some songs that are real standouts, the best of them being a song called Far Away written by Sean Altman (yes, that Sean Altman). It is by far my favorite on the album. It is full of moody atmosphere and compelling background harmonies loaded with effects. The soloist Paul Pampinella delivers with a smooth style that I think adds to the story the song is telling.

So There is a professional album from a professional group with a professional sound. I know some of you might wonder just how good this group is in real life, since the album is so heavily produced. Well, if it makes you feel better, I have heard FOCS in person, under some of the worst conditions. I happened to be in Burlington Vermont over the Fourth of July holiday last year (1998) when they were doing an outdoor show. They had no power, no microphones. They sounded great. Once they got the power back, they just sounded better. There are not that many groups I can honestly say that about. Five O'Clock Shadow is the real deal.

So forget about those silly questions. This is a GOOD album. Buy it.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Mine Tonight 4
2 What It's All About 5
3 Far Away 5
4 Hold Me For Awhile 4
5 Think of You 2
6 Stop And Say Hello 4
7 Move On 4
8 If You Could Only See 4
9 Get Down Tonight/That's the Way 4
10 Tribute 3

Take a look at the Five O'Clock Shadow web site and you'll be hit with (aside from lots of photos) the notion that FOCS is "redefining a cappella" and "breaking new ground"... Well, not with this album. Not that it isn't a fine CD to add to your a cappella collection; it's a safe purchase that you can file nicely between The House Jacks and Rockapella or maybe just under "harmless adult contemporary". I guess it's just that I was expecting something more hip and rock-oriented. Shame on me for walking into a review with preconceived notions of what I wanted to hear... All the publicity I've seen about FOCS has billed them as pretty rockin', so I was just unprepared for the relative mellowness of the album. Right. Moving on...

My major observation on So There is this: Paul Pampinella is the best thing to happen to this group in years. His involvement in each track is in direct proportion to its quality — his originals are the most interesting (more so than the other "baby I love you, baby I miss you" original tunes here), his solos are the strongest, and his arrangements are the most inspired (except maybe Samrat's hand on What's It All About, which is quite nicely done). They even let Paul do that cool "overtone guitar" sound of his... I've yet to see FOCS live, but I saw Paul with Vox One when they whizzed through Minnesota last year, so I've seen him make groovy sounds in person. "So There" indeed. The songs where he doesn't play an integral role are the weaker ones on the CD. Maybe the new lineup has resolved some of these problems (only 4 of these 6 are still in the group).

My other observation is that, though the FOCS sound is nice, it's nothing new or unique. Far Away — hey, that sounds just like Rockapella! Cool! Stop and Say Hello — hey, that's Vox One! Neato! If You Could Only See is vaguely House Jacks and That's The Way will always be M-PACT to me... Tribute and Get Down Tonight I guess are FOCS, if only because they've already recorded them, what, twice?

Think of You starts out cool with some sort of flange effect on the vocal percussion but goes downhill from there, sinking to the point of using the phrase "It must be clear to everyone/you were the inspiration for this song" and even "You complete me"... Well, if you like Tom Cruise movies and wish Caroline in the City was on every night, you need this disc. If not, it's still a good reliable album. Just don't expect a "re-definition" of a cappella or any house-rocking moments.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Mine Tonight 5
2 What It's All About 5
3 Far Away 4
4 Hold Me For Awhile 4
5 Think of You 3
6 Stop And Say Hello 3
7 Move On 4
8 If You Could Only See 4
9 Get Down Tonight/That's the Way 5
10 Tribute 3

Let me get this out of the way first: This is a good album. FOCS' reputation precedes them as an excellent vocal band; let's face it, when you can get Sean Altman to collaborate on a track, that's quite an endorsement.

The main problem I had with the album was an overall let down from an incredible beginning. I had attributed it to possibly being in a really bad mood the first couple times I listened to it. But I couldn't shake the feeling that a strong start to the album was not sustained, and it only spiked once or twice toward the end.

Production value was high, as was especially evident in the disco tribute cover Get Down Tonight/That's the Way which deserved a CARA nod just as much as their other cover song If You Could Only See. (By the way, who's the female cameo in Get Down Tonight? Rowr.)

The let down started in Far Away, which was well done, but felt like it was a bit like Mine Tonight in chord structure. Then Hold Me For A While opened with a teaser that had nothing musically to do with the rest of the track. It was a case of "Look what we can do...".

Lyrics were also a bit lacking in Think of You and Stop and Say Hello. It seems like they were trying to be hidden in the middle of the CD.

To their credit, I fully appreciated the fact that there were no awkward gaps. It may seem a simplistic and silly point, but when there's a continuous piece of music running that doesn't come to a screeching halt because someone forgot to take a breath to hold a note, or that was arranged to say "Look at me, I'm dead air", you can concentrate a lot easier on the music with which you're presented.

I can't really recommend this as a "must have", more like a "nice to have".


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