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Bare Naked Statues

Saint Louis University

All Expenses Paid (2010)


September 1, 2011

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 3.0
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.0
1 I Write Sins Not Tragedies 3.0
2 Starlight 3.3
3 Fred Jones, Pt. 2 2.7
4 Cowboys 4.3
5 When Your Mind's Made Up 3.0
6 Low Remix 4.3
7 War On Sound 4.3
8 Suspension 4.0
9 Comfortable 3.3
10 Save Kryptonite 3.3
11 Short Skirt Long Jacket [unlisted] 3.3

Recorded 2008 – 2010
Total time: 44:03, 11 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
1 I Write Sins Not Tragedies 3
2 Starlight 3
3 Fred Jones, Pt. 2 3
4 Cowboys 5
5 When Your Mind's Made Up 3
6 Low Remix 5
7 War On Sound 5
8 Suspension 5
9 Comfortable 3
10 Save Kryptonite 3
11 Short Skirt Long Jacket [unlisted] 4

St. Louis University's Bare Naked Statues' All Expenses Paid is a brutal reminder of how far a cappella has come in the last two decades. How something that once would have been excellent can now be considered average is one of those fully understood, yet still miraculous things. It's like flight. Yes, we understand the Bernoulli principle, and lift and propulsion, and yet, how can we possibly be flying in something made of metal? Metal! It's so heavy! BNS delivers, but the groups we must compare it to are always pushing the boundaries and so this enjoyable album rates average; though surely, their fans will enjoy it for years to come.

Programming this album must have been a nightmare. Just look at the scores. Should the great ones come first? Last? BNS perhaps unwisely chose to scatter them. I think I would have front-loaded, the theory being to get listeners 100% on your side from the get-go. All Expenses Paid is a bit Lord of the Rings: we have a lot of ground to cover, a lot of walking to do, before we hit the real action.

But turn the corner and boom, some tracks just rock. If you can get a hold of Cowboys, Low Remix and War on Sound, you'll thank me. Fun, funky, danceable, musical — these tracks are bulls-eyes. Total fun. And Short Skirt Long Jacket ain't too shabby either. Even paraplegics will bop to Low Remix. They have to. Beats that phat bypass conscious control.

But alas, then there's a ton of ... "ok". Ok isn't bad. It's ok. All the parts are there, and in-tune and phrased, and fine, but nothing really special happens. Listeners want charged particles. They need something special for musical electrons to break the average orbit, some combination of bold arranging, stunning lead singing, or powerful back-ups. There are elements worth praising, but overall it's just shy of the mark.

And speaking of just shy of the mark, I'm staring at you. Yes you. Do you feel it? Good. Now listen closely. Credit the composers of your songs. It is not enough to credit the original artists. If not for the composers, you'd all be mathletes. Show some thanks. I'm doing that thing where I point a finger at each of my eyes and then at you. Attempt to partially rectify this egregious error by posting the information in your MP3 metadata and on your website.

All in all, the cream of BNS's crop is really worth owning. It belongs in your aca-dance party mix. Many collegiate groups never know excellence at all; thankfully BNS is above that. Now they just have to bring it all up to that level.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
1 I Write Sins Not Tragedies 2
2 Starlight 3
3 Fred Jones, Pt. 2 2
4 Cowboys 4
5 When Your Mind's Made Up 3
6 Low Remix 4
7 War On Sound 4
8 Suspension 3
9 Comfortable 3
10 Save Kryptonite 3
11 Short Skirt Long Jacket [unlisted] 3

All Expenses Paid is what we here at RARB have taken to calling a "high 3" album: average, with brief hints at the potential for something better. This album has all the prerequisites for listenability. The fundamentals of singing are all there (tuning, timing, decent energy), the thing is mixed well, and thankfully it avoids the trap of sounding too perfect for its own good. Trouble is, there's not much more than that going on, and the result is an album that isn't exciting, merely "listenable".

Most of the songs covered on this album are pretty "alternative", meaning not necessarily tunes you would hear on pop radio. Usually that's a recipe for a more original-sounding a cappella album, only in this case the Statues have chosen to cover all the alternative songs that every other group seems to be fond of. I swear this is my third album in a row with Fred Jones, Pt. 2 (a great song, but are groups really just now discovering Rockin' the Suburbs? There's some great stuff on Ben's newer albums too ... ). Also getting pretty sick of I Write Sins Not Tragedies — especially this version's failed attempt at a slowed-down intro (doubly ineffective because it opens the album with a yawn). Starlight, Suspension — add them to the pile.

That's my feeling on this album in general: just another non-descript disc in the growing pile of "listenable" a cappella accumulating in my house. What could have made it better? First and foremost, most of the soloists sound kinda bored. Energy in the backs is ok, but it needs to be met or exceeded by the front man. Lots of awkward phrasing mars what might have otherwise been alright leads. There are even moments where soloists struggle to hit notes, most egregiously the high A in I Write Sins Not Tragedies. There are so many great versions of this tune out there — you need to nail that note, at least in studio, or don't do the song.

Lest I rag on the Statues too hard, this album does have a few standout moments. The strong exception to the "bored soloist" problem is Nic Summary, who totally kills his take on Counting Crows' Cowboys. He delivers the song with power and nuance — a real breath of fresh air. Low Remix is interesting as well, primarily because it sounds like Bill Hare had license to make some interesting studio sounds. The result is a well-crafted, authentic beat. War on Sound is pretty solid, filled out by the added sound of SLU's Beyond All Reason.

Unfortunately those moments are the exception, and there's little else to recommend this album. The Statues have some work to do if they want to get us excited about their music. A good place to start: get yourselves (or at the very least your soloists) sounding more excited first!

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
1 I Write Sins Not Tragedies 4
2 Starlight 4
3 Fred Jones, Pt. 2 3
4 Cowboys 4
5 When Your Mind's Made Up 3
6 Low Remix 4
7 War On Sound 4
8 Suspension 4
9 Comfortable 4
10 Save Kryptonite 4
11 Short Skirt Long Jacket [unlisted] 3

All Expenses Paid, the third album from St. Louis' University's Bare Naked Statues, is an energetic and spirited effort. The good outweighs the bad on this album, and overall it's a very enjoyable listen.

When listening I was struck, first and foremost, by the fantastic production; the album was edited by James Cannon and mixed and mastered by Bill Hare. Aligning your group with star producers is no way to guarantee a successful album, but here the production really shines through. The opening track, I Write Sins Not Tragedies, creates a haunting soundscape before exploding into an energetic rock track. Low Remix is an infectious dance-club anthem with some incredible VP samples. And the collaboration with SLU's Beyond All Reason for War on Sound sounds great as well.

Soloists are not always consistent, but some stand out as being fantastic. Nic Summary's impassioned lead on Cowboys is an album highlight, and made me wish he was featured on the album more. I also really enjoyed Mitchell Johnson's beautiful solo on John Mayer's Comfortable. Not all leads were this successful: soloists on Fred Jones, Pt. 2 and When Your Mind's Made Up seemed especially uncomfortable and failed to "own" the songs, leaving me wishing I was listening to the originals.

The track list yields no real surprises; this is standard collegiate fare. John Mayer, Muse, Ben Folds and Counting Crows covers populate the album. Bare Naked Statues don't do much reinterpreting on All Expenses Paid; instead they work on delivering faithful and well-executed covers ... and they succeed. At no point during the album did I remove my headphones and yell that the group had besmirched the good name of one of my favorite songs (I ... have done this before). And even though there are some well-worn a cappella standards on the album, nothing seems unbearably overdone either.

All Expenses Paid is not exceptional, but Bare Naked Statues have produced a sturdy effort with some solid tracks. With more inventive song choices and arrangements, as well as more consistent soloists, Bare Naked Statues could rise to the excellent level. Until then, they've made an album that they should definitely be proud of.

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