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Ball in the House

Ball in the House (1999)

3.8

July 6, 1999

Tuning / Blend 4.2
Energy / Intensity 3.6
Innovation / Creativity 3.2
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Home 4.0
2 Don't Say You're Sorry 3.8
3 Burned 4.0
4 Fantasyland 3.6
5 Should I 3.4
6 Giving You Me 3.6
7 The More That I Say 3.6
8 Helen 3.4
9 I Couldn't Run 3.4
10 Crawlin' 3.8
11 Ask 3.4
12 Gravity Buster 3.6
13 Try 3.4
14 Get It On 3.6

Recorded 1998 – 1999
Total time: 56:24, 14 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Home 4
2 Don't Say You're Sorry 4
3 Burned 5
4 Fantasyland 4
5 Should I 4
6 Giving You Me 4
7 The More That I Say 4
8 Helen 4
9 I Couldn't Run 4
10 Crawlin' 5
11 Ask 4
12 Gravity Buster 4
13 Try 4
14 Get It On 5

Original a cappella took a step in the right direction with Ball in the House, the new album from the Boston band of the same name. The new disc is a great party album — lots of medium tempo, engaging music that doesn't require much from its listener. And so consistent! They may run together, but none of these songs will make you go "ew — what was that!" or otherwise distract you during your party, car trip, or other musical experience.

There's one fabulous rocker — Get it On, which is on par with The House Jacks at their best. Ball in the House should have given a little more thought to DJs and put their de rigeur hidden music on its own track — I'd hate to think this song might miss out on radio play because it's hard to tell where the actual song ends just by watching the counter.

Not that the rest of this album isn't good enough to play on the radio. It's just that Get it On was the only number with a strong enough hook to stick with me once the disc was back in its case. Don't Say You're Sorry is a strong, sappy, boygroup ballad for those who like that sort of thing, but the rest of us will probably go elsewhere on the disc. (I may have to eat those words if Ball in the House becomes the next 'N Sync. But my appreciation for them at that point will likely be inverse to the change in their bank balances.)

My taste runs more along the lines of Burned — a little funkier, more groove dependent. Mouth drummer John Ryan never lets up on the beat in this album, showing a distinctive, rhythmic style that supports the music without stealing the show. A little more flash might have been handy on some of the songs, but Ryan's groove and execution are faultless.

This is the rock a cappella album to give to your friends who listen to mainstream rock radio and use the word "inaccessible" to describe anything even vaguely idiosyncratic. Ball in the House has the presence to stand up to a lot of music with instruments, and it's also got a groove or two for those of us who require more than style from our music.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Home 4
2 Don't Say You're Sorry 3
3 Burned 3
4 Fantasyland 4
5 Should I 2
6 Giving You Me 4
7 The More That I Say 3
8 Helen 2
9 I Couldn't Run 3
10 Crawlin' 3
11 Ask 3
12 Gravity Buster 4
13 Try 3
14 Get It On 4

All originals. I really struggle with reviewing all-original a cappella albums. I fully realize that groups that can do all-originals should be admired for that fact...considering I've personally written two performable songs in eight years, it takes talent. Conversely, Debbie Gibson wrote and produced the songs on her first album, and that doesn't mean I'm a Debbie Gibson fan. I love a cappella covers because I get to hear a good song done in a different way. The only a cappella originals I have ever really gone gaga over are Sean Altman's. Therefore, I was wondering how I would react to this album.

The big pitfall with a cappella originals is that a lot of times it's hard to bring anything truly innovative to the table. A lot of a cappella originals, if played with full instruments by a band, would be written off as cheesy pop songs better suited for the likes of 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. This album only marginally avoids that. Most of the songs are either about love found or love lost, and though I know that that's a big part of music, surely there are other things that could be written about. I really feel I would have enjoyed the love/love lost songs if there were less of them and if they were mixed with other subject matter on the album. The two songs that are seemingly not about love/love lost, Fantasyland and Gravity Buster, are pleasant enough ditties, but nothing...gripping. There are some decent songs to listen to that I wouldn't get up to change the radio if they come on...but nothing that makes me feel buying this album would have been worth it.

That having been said, they sing these songs really well. The soloists sell their stuff beautifully. The production is exemplary. And it's important for songwriters to keep writing, in the event that they will get better. But Ball in the House still have some work to do in regards to writing music that I find interesting to listen to.

Please note that you may get this album anyway and think I'm not worth the time to read this review..that's fine. This album is not a "this sucks", this is an "I don't like what they did". I don't like Phish either, but they seem to be doing well enough without my approval. =) So if you must, call this a noncommittal review. I didn't like it, but many may, and some will. That's life. =)


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 Home 3
2 Don't Say You're Sorry 3
3 Burned 3
4 Fantasyland 3
5 Should I 3
6 Giving You Me 3
7 The More That I Say 3
8 Helen 3
9 I Couldn't Run 3
10 Crawlin' 3
11 Ask 3
12 Gravity Buster 3
13 Try 3
14 Get It On 3

I had to re-read my first review of Ball in the House's debut CD, Love Drug because I was surprised at my reaction to their self titled release. I couldn't praise the group enough for their first effort, yet this CD left me bored; I had a hard time remembering any of the songs once shutting the CD because they all blended together. Practically every arrangement is the following: a soloist, the other three solo vocalists filling out the chord on the same syllable or words, a great walking, moving bass line, and percussion line consisting of bass-bass-snare patterns.

When releasing an album full of originals, I hope that a group considers whether or not the songs sound the same. I think that if you are putting songs on albums, a group should be sure that there are innovative, exciting elements to each song OTHER than that they are originals. The overall sound on each song is the same tone quality, the same level of dynamics, and soloists that have 'nice' voices. All of the soloists, however, seem to need to improve their enunciation. I have a hard time hearing phrasing on this CD, because my overall impression is "a bunch of guys singing their notes correctly". (However, tuning is under pitch often; they sing notes and release them so quickly in some arrangements, they don't allow the notes to settle.)

When I listen to a CD, one of the first things I look for is if the music stirs my emotions at all. Ball in the House seems bored with this; basic chords, tonal, straightforward melodies that don't leave anything up to the imagination, and every song is around the same tempo! Lots of funky effects (I'm not sure of the terms, but listen to Gravity Buster for example) are used on several tracks; I think it was to cover up the lack of creativity in most aspects other than writing originals.

I struggled to find one song that I cared to comment about, but everything said above pretty much covers all of them. It is not to say that there was a strong effort to produce a CD with all original a cappella songs, but whether or not the songs are original in comparison to each other is another story.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Home 4
2 Don't Say You're Sorry 4
3 Burned 5
4 Fantasyland 4
5 Should I 4
6 Giving You Me 3
7 The More That I Say 4
8 Helen 4
9 I Couldn't Run 3
10 Crawlin' 4
11 Ask 3
12 Gravity Buster 3
13 Try 4
14 Get It On 3

Ball in the House has come a good way since their previous release. Above all, their sound has simply filled out: whereas before I thought that for five guys there was something of a surprising lack, this album rings with more volume and stronger chords. There is still some thinness at times, with a habituation of voices to parts (the soloist is normally the same, the bass always sings only bass) contributing to this. In all, though, a richer sound.

Exciting too are the original songs. Through this (and no doubt through long practice!) BitH has developed a consistent sounds which rings true on each of their songs: slightly tinny, obviously upbeat, with no small touch of soul. As they claim in the liner notes, the bass and VPist make substantial contributions to this sound. The VP is much improved from the previous album, crisper, louder and with some delightful variety in entrances and change-ups.

Their consistency leaves a bit to be desired on some tracks: interpretation is fairly uniform, and while this could make concerts quite exciting it leaves their ballads a bit flat and their humor somehow underemphasized. Original, humorous songs in the grand ol' tradition of the Bobs is a good thing, but BitH seems to lack a cheekiness, aiming instead for a self-impressed seriousness of funk which is not always on the money for a given song (they sound so earnest singing even Gravity Buster!).

Good sound, good stuff. Shrug off a bit of the 'tude and they'll have themselves a real winner.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Home 5
2 Don't Say You're Sorry 5
3 Burned 4
4 Fantasyland 3
5 Should I 4
6 Giving You Me 4
7 The More That I Say 4
8 Helen 4
9 I Couldn't Run 4
10 Crawlin' 4
11 Ask 4
12 Gravity Buster 4
13 Try 3
14 Get It On 3

The latest CD from Ball in the House does something that no other pro group has done that I've heard: they've stuck to the number of voices in their group on their recordings. Explanation: it seems that groups lately have taken to recording extra parts for their tracks to play with harmonies. With the extra parts, it renders an exact replication live on stage more or less impossible. BitH, to my ear, works within their group dynamics extremely well. I enjoyed the fact that I wasn't going to be cheated by a pared down version should I ever get the chance to hear them live. [Jason Downie from Ball in the House responded to this: "At least 7 of the 14 songs have in excess of 30 tracks layered in." -CT]

The problem that stuck with me most, and it may be just me, is that, again to my ear, it seemed each and every track was in a minor key. So while I enjoyed the technicality of the recordings, I never could invest any emotion into listening to it. [Jason Downie responded: "9 of the 14 tracks are in major keys." By my count, two of these nine tracks modulated between major and minor. -CT].

Likewise, while I am EXTREMELY appreciative that all the tracks are originals, I feel that also was a detraction in that on a majority of the tracks I didn't understand what the message was. For example, I Couldn't Run: What does "I couldn't run though you burned my world apart, I didn't have nowhere to go" mean? Maybe I'm nitpicking, and that is entirely possible, but in doing originals, you run that risk of losing your audience in your meanings and messages, and I definitely had difficulty keeping up on that.

Last thought...the blend was quite good, but I couldn't help but feeling that each of the members were being so careful in keeping the blend together that there was something held back. There just seemed to be a bit of passion missing as a group in each track, except for the very first track. It's not a case of sloppy deliberation, but more of careful consideration that seemed to hold something back.

Final analysis: much of what I didn't like about the CD was personally subjective to my tastes. What can't be argued is that BitH is technically sound and creatively focused. While I wasn't blown away by the CD, I do think that it is something that Joe Bagodonuts might like to take a chance on. It won't be for everyone, but it will suit many people's tastes.

There's a hidden track, that I think is actually a cover of a Japanimation cartoon, though I don't know the name. It's cute and kitschy, with clever vocalizations of some of the sound effects. [Jason Downie responded: "It is actually some theme music we wrote for the upcoming Muppets in Space movie for Brian Henson. (It did not end up getting used.)" -CT]


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Ordering Information

CDs are $15 and are available at shows, through the web site, and through mail. For mail orders, send check or money order to:

Ball in the House
56 Granite Ave.
Boston, MA 02124
Add $3 for shipping to addresses outside the US.

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