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Rock4

Back To Basic (2022)

4.7

June 18, 2022

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Human 4.3
2 Whole Lotta Love 4.7
3 Life On Mars? 4.0
4 Teardrop 4.7
5 Goodbye Blue Sky 4.3
6 Wish You Were Here 4.3
7 Unfinished Sympathy 4.7
8 Bad Guy 3.7
9 Feeling Good 4.7
10 Black Hole Sun 4.3
11 Land Of Confusion 4.3
12 Moon Over Bourbon Street 5.0
13 Blackbird 4.3

Recorded 2020 – 2021
Total time: 53:01, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Human 5
2 Whole Lotta Love 5
3 Life On Mars? 5
4 Teardrop 5
5 Goodbye Blue Sky 5
6 Wish You Were Here 5
7 Unfinished Sympathy 5
8 Bad Guy 5
9 Feeling Good 5
10 Black Hole Sun 5
11 Land Of Confusion 5
12 Moon Over Bourbon Street 5
13 Blackbird 5

Rock4 have been creating worlds of intensely powerful, achingly sparse rock music for nearly twenty years. The group's many excellent recordings and impressive live touring schedule have established it as one of the foremost Dutch a cappella groups. On Back To Basic, Rock4 delivers a full thirteen tracks of what these singers do best: atmosphericly moody explorations of classic rock and angst-pop, lightly dusted with a hint of jazz. They know how to pick hits. For sources, think Led Zepplin, Beatles, Sting, Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, Soundgarden, Genesis, David Bowie, and Billie Eilish. The group's sound is the unusual mix of an arena-filling lead surrounded by an ensemble of just three, and arrangements that often opt for even fewer parts in a given section. Powerful and haunting, Rock4 make musical skeletons come to life.

Most tracks feature the incomparable Luc Devens (aka Ludovique) on emotion-filled tenor leads — sometimes intimate, often soaring. From breathy longing to Led Zepplin-esque screams, he brings the dramatic intensity that drives the majority of the album. His world rests on the earthy Miklós Németh (formerly of Fool Moon) who provides the foundation: driving root-pedal, room-filling bass — also sometimes breathy, sometimes electronic-y, always rock solid. That is, of course, when he isn't moonlighting as a jazz-touched lead himself (Black Hole Sun, Blackbird). Creating the unearthly atmosphere around them, Phillip Schröter provides both sensitive vp and baritone parts (and the liltingly melismatic lead of Feeling Good), and Lucas Blommers (who they call "The Classical Man") delivers deft purity on the upper harmonies.

This release feels more relaxed than previous albums. The group welcomes just a bit more lounge and soft rock into its musical vocabulary. The result is perhaps more laid back, but the divergence isn't so great that fans will be thrown. All the core elements remain.

If Rock4 has a weakness, it is only this: occasionally, the combination of arranging, production and backing parts don't quite match the ferocity of Devens's more intense moments (take for example, the belted high notes on Life On Mars?). When that mild mismatch occurs, it's one of Rock4's rare disappointments, though hardly a fatal flaw.

Also, fair warning to the aca-purists: piano (gasp!) does make two appearances, on Wish You Were Here (Schröter) and Black Hole Sun (Németh). While the playing is well done by both group members, the generous chords do seem a little at odds with the deliberate scarcity of the other tracks.

The a cappella world has favored an ocean of layered harmonies for a generation. Swimming upstream with ease, Rock4 continues its successful contrarian legacy of, shall we say, "space" exploration with Back To Basic. Worth the listen!


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Human 3
2 Whole Lotta Love 4
3 Life On Mars? 3
4 Teardrop 4
5 Goodbye Blue Sky 4
6 Wish You Were Here 3
7 Unfinished Sympathy 4
8 Bad Guy 3
9 Feeling Good 4
10 Black Hole Sun 3
11 Land Of Confusion 4
12 Moon Over Bourbon Street 5
13 Blackbird 4

Back To Basic by the Dutch vocal band Rock4 presents a wide array of reinterpretations of mostly rock tracks, sprinkled in with an occasional non-rock selection to show off the group's impressive vocal skillset. While there's no shortage of talent in terms of the group's vocal capability, I find myself latching on to the more hard-hitting tracks, along with a few other standouts.

Rock4 has a knack for rock music. There's no getting around it, and it's easy to believe from listening to Luc Devens's showstopping range, Phillip Schröter's killer percussion, and the skills of Miklós Németh and Lucas Blommers's backing contributions. The four combine to deliver a rocking good time with both flair and style.

Some of my favorite moments on Back To Basic come when Rock4 throws caution to the wind and hits the ground running, like on Whole Lotta Love. The track has edge, due in large part to the animated and quick percussion which gives the song so much life and really takes over in the track's breakdown section. As for Luc Devens's lead, it just captivates from start to finish, knowing exactly when to offer subtlety and when to just go for it. It's all hard rock at its finest.

More of their flair, albeit in a different way, also comes through on Goodbye Blue Sky. While not hard-hitting, the vocals are more methodical in their delivery of rhythmic parts that are simply pure and graceful. The progressive rock track offers a unique balance of light and dark tones, felt beautifully in the chord execution. And the band's versatility continues with their selection of Teardrop, a somewhat trance-inducing track that pushes the creative envelope, demonstrating how well Rock4 can fill so much space with only four voices.

As Back To Basic progresses, there are a few head-scratching moments that leave me wondering about some of the group's creative decisions. For starters, while some vocal groups have been known to include instruments on their tracks, having two tracks with piano accompaniment is a bit more than my liking. Wish You Were Here and Black Hole Sun both showcase adept piano playing, but at the sacrifice of overshadowing the featured vocals. I'm not sure either track adds much to the overall tone of the album.

The inclusion of Bad Guy initially felt intriguing as it's a pulsing song with many creative avenues to explore. Ultimately, the arrangement seems thin and leaves me desiring more. Other tracks such as Life On Mars? and Human also struggle at times to maintain creative momentum or an additional gear to take the song to the next level.

There is very little vocally that is out of place on Back To Basic. I feel that greater focus on those hard-hitting and energizing rock selections, the album's strengths, is what's needed to take this project from good to stellar.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Human 5
2 Whole Lotta Love 5
3 Life On Mars? 4
4 Teardrop 5
5 Goodbye Blue Sky 4
6 Wish You Were Here 5
7 Unfinished Sympathy 5
8 Bad Guy 3
9 Feeling Good 5
10 Black Hole Sun 5
11 Land Of Confusion 4
12 Moon Over Bourbon Street 5
13 Blackbird 4

This could be simply my own observation, and I certainly would not say that I have been exposed to "all things a cappella" (although, my horizons have grown in recent years thanks to RARB), but I don't come across rock covers in a cappella all that often. What I usually see on a set list is a lot of pop, some country, and the occasional R&B or musical number. So, looking at the tracklist of Back To Basic and seeing covers of songs from David Bowie, Genesis, and Led Zeppelin of all groups ... well, needless to say, my interest was piqued. How will a group of four guys be able to replicate the energy and intensity of a rock number across a whole album? Is this even possible?

On the group's website, the musicians state that "every song is carefully analyzed and reduced to its essentials and from there built up into an almost new song." I read that and thought that each song is essentially a stripped-down cover of the original. And while there are certainly moments as such, I can't really classify the tracks like that. Rock4 has carefully crafted each song to give us the essential feel of the original song, to the point that you have to remember that it's just a group of four voices ... and that's it. Well, and occasionally a piano, but basically just four voices! These singers form more than an a cappella group; they're a vocal rock band, end of discussion.

Lead singer Luc Devens is absolutely incredible throughout the whole album. Singing lead in at least part on all but three tracks, Devens displays great control and finesse, being careful not to overshadow his fellow bandmates unless the moment calls for it, such as at the end of Whole Lotta Love where you can really hear him wailing and channeling his inner Robert Plant. With every track that he features on, I had to keep checking that it was indeed still Devens on the lead — his voice is very chameleon-like, changing with every subtle emotional shift. And while we're on the subject of Whole Lotta Love, vocal percussionist Phillip Schröter is amazing during this whole track. His solo in the middle is killer, but there is real direction and energy he shows that helps drive the song forward. The driving percussion line is so important in rock music, and Schröter is simply masterful in the way that his vp captures the style's feel and energy for Rock4. Not to mention he plays a beautiful piano on Wish You Were Here.

If there's one song where I don't think that Rock4 quite got it, it's Bad Guy. While the singers put in a valiant effort, I think there is simply too much missing in the arrangement from the original that makes the track feel empty. Granted, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas have so much going on in the original that I imagine it was hard for Rock4 to pick out exactly what to focus on. That said, the group may need to become Rock6.

Oh, did I mention that the group can also pull off vocal jazz? Well, these singers certainly can! Sting's Moon Over Bourbon Street certainly has a softer feel to begin with, but Rock4 takes you into a swanky jazz bar with some great vocal trumpet scatting and steady jazz percussion from Schröter. All four members of the group share the solo, and they switch so seamlessly that I think the only way you'd be able to tell who's singing is by actually watching them. As amazing as some of these rock tracks are, this very well might be my favorite on the album.

If any of you have a friend who struggles to get into a cappella and happens to love rock music, Back To Basic is the album that just may convince them a cappella's not all covers of pop music. There's so much ear candy across this album that you'll discover new things with each listen. The next time I travel to Europe for work, there's a good chance I'll be making a detour to see these guys in The Netherlands. Well done!

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Ordering Information

Back To Basic can be purchased from Rock4's online store.

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