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This album was reviewed by five members of
RARB. In this compilation, their comments are
always listed in a consistent order. Thus, for each song (and in the
"overall" section), all comments numbered "1" are from the same
reviewer, as are those numbered "2", etc.
This is an extraodinarily solid album. The Xtension Chords
aren't looking to change the face of college a cappella singing, and a
few of the tracks read as generic all male a cappella arrangements,
but there are moments of true greatness on this album. In particular,
the album is anchored at the beginning, end, and middle with some of
the finest singing and creative arranging I've heard (Picture Perfect,
The Look, and Freeze Frame). Even in the less inspired arrangements,
the group maintains a remarkably rich sound and consistent blend. These
guys sing very well. I find it particularly encouraging that my
favorite track on the album was the last one recorded (Picture
Perfect, spring 95). I think this bodes well for this group. They
have some strong years ahead of them.
Rating: 8 (6.5)
Well, it's a good college-group album, which means a couple
of things in my book: it's generally entertaining, but there's
nothing so spectacular that it transcends what many other
college groups are capable of.
I did have a few quibbles with various parts of the album,
but they are minor compared with what I would normally
criticize but don't have reason to here: the group's energy is
almost always at an appropriate level for the song (which isn't
always easy when the only audience you have is a microphone),
the arrangements are generally interesting and well-crafted,
and the songs often showcase very skilled soloists.
All in all, if you've got the spare cash, there are worse
ways you could spend it than to go with this album.
Rating: 7 (7.5)
Before I say anything else, I should admit up front that I
love camp. Someone once told me that you could always tell the true
queens because their dresses _fit_, and the similarly unselfconscious
flaming glory of some of the stuff lurking on this album had me fit to
be tied. "The Look" is definitely the campiest a cappella
extravaganza since the Spizzwinks(?)'s Sex Medley, and perhaps more
so if you've only heard the latter and not seen Yale men voguing in
action. That being said, on to the music.
The Xchords have a big sound that has the same blend-o-rama
fuzziness of some of the better ivy groups. It's not an awful effect,
but — now don't freak guys — it has to get a little choral sounding
when you get a big group together and have more than 2 on a part in
complex arrangements. (I'm guessing here — cut me some slack.) If
the whole group had lightened up and backed off the tone they might
have been able to staunch this in places — a few songs needed to
chill. Ain't no dynamics nowhere — too bad, they could have made
some good songs great. They do get definite plus points for having
someone who can really whistle (with out that annoying chirpy sound)
and making great use of it in the arrangements. The arrangements are
good, and make good use of high stuff in general by expertly walking
the fine line between milking talent and overdoing it. There was only
one glaringly bad falsetto on the album (at the end of
"You Took The Words..."), which has got to be a
record, and even that was in tune. There's a good bit of energy, and
some really funky stuff that made the album a pleasure to listen to
for me. I also confess to liking most of the little gags that most of
the songs have hidden in the ending — they are subtle and musically
accurate, so I let them get away with it even if it is formulaic.
This album is good enough that you don't have to be a Priscilla
fan to appreciate it. But it doesn't hurt.
Rating: 9 (7.0)
After reading all of the unqualified praise being heaped
upon this album on the internet, I was expecting it to be a lot better
than it is. "Shock Value" is a very solid album, there are a couple
tracks that are really good, but is just not in the same class as some
of the albums it's been compared to. The Xtension Chords are a group
that has a lot going for them: some creative arrangers, a few very nice
soloists ("Picture Perfect" had a GREAT solo), very few pitch
problems. But the threshold they fail to cross is to take those skills
and form something interesting from a musical standpoint. "The Lion
Sleeps Tonight" (of all things) come closest to doing this, but the
rest of the album falls very much into the category of standard
collegiate male a cappella. I have a feeling that the next album this
group produces may deserve the accolades this one has received, but
"Shock Value" was an unpleasant surprise.
Rating: 6 (5.5)
Overall, the Xtension Chords are a solid, talented group of
men. They are strong, confident, and almost always right on
the mark. They've got a good number of voices for the
arrangements which they sing, and a good balance of voice
parts. The album is a high quality recording, and consists of
a variety of song choices, though a little heavy on covers of
the Beach Boys for my taste. Some of their other arrangements
are simply inspired. An arrangement can really make the
difference in a song, and this group has got a couple of
really talented arrangers. My only complaint is that the
syllable "ba-ba" is overused in their songs. But other than
that, there is not much fault to be found with this album. It
is a truly enjoyable listen.
Rating: 8 (6.9)
WOW! This track kicks. A hook that doesn't quit, a
soloist who swings, and a group with a rock solid sound. The blend is
superb. I really can't say enough good things about this track. I've
listened to it three times in a row now and I'm still not tired of it.
It took me a few listens to like this song. It's
basically a straight-ahead pop song, and plain old pop songs rarely
excite me. However, once I got past the fact that it was just pop, I
found things to like: the soloist (who has a _very_ distinctive voice)
is energetic and nails every note and embellishment he attempts. The
percussion is spot-on, and the arrangement varies enough to keep it
interesting. Overall, pretty entertaining for a pop song.
I don't think I'd ever heard this song before. It
reminded me of a more cheerful Hootie and the Blowfish, so if this is
completely wrong to those of you who know the song, subtract 1 from my
score. The solo got a little lost, and the bass melody echo is a
little blurred — the high harmony worked better. The
background-on-the-words parts were much clearer than the rest of the
song. As far as I can tell the song was done pretty well — though
the key change didn't grab me — but it's so muddy that I was just
going on the absence of glaring error to assume it's in tune.
A strong, energetic opening track that makes you forget
that the sound quality on "Shock Value" really isn't that high. But
despite the empty production, this is a good arrangement and boasts a
strong lead. Performed with panache and a wicked snare sound, I think
this is one of the better openers I've heard.
The album gets off to a strong start with this song.
The arrangement is great: busy without being cluttered. Great
vocal percussion, too. Solid all around.
Nice rich opening. This group has a very nice low end.
Soloist has a nice voice, though diction is a bit odd at times. The
arrangement feels a bit week at the beginning of the chorus. The 1st
tenors are singing the melody alone in a very high register. They do
a nice job, but it just feels empty. More parts join them as the
chorus goes on, but it really feels like the bottom drops out from
under them each time. Still, for the most part, a very solid all-male
Starts out with strangely muted percussion followed by
satisfyingly low basses on the main figure. The soloist matches the
original well, but is occasionally drowned out by the background. The
arrangement of the chorus is frustrating; the third & fourth lines
("I bless the rains down in Africa/Gonna take the time...") are
interesting with some harmonic twists, but the first two lines of the
chorus are weak and empty, especially when the background drops out.
This isn't a new problem; I have yet to hear a group sing the chorus
to this song with sufficient power or enough supporting harmonies to
make up for the lack of volume. Finally, they left out the middle
instrumental section! I was bummed. Still, aside from all that, it
is pleasant to listen to; no huge gaffes.
I cut my teeth on the Clefs' arrangement, which is
still my favorite arrangement of this song, so I suppose I'm biased.
This isn't too bad, though, if a bit heavy for my taste — I think it
would have worked better if everybody had backed off and brightened a
tad. The semi-pitched percussion is very good — again I would have
added some cleaner sounds, particularly on the non-bass drum stuff,
cause all these variations on "ch" and "dj" don't exactly clean up the
sound. They use the same chorus effect they did on the unisons in the
last song to blend the choruses. Hint: it's more effective if you
limit it. I could have used more from the soloist, but mixing him
louder probably would have just made him stick out. Great, pretty
unison by the basses at the end.
An uninspiring version of an oft-covered classic 80s
tune- it just doesn't have that feeling. There is very little wrong
with this track: solid solo, chords mostly in tune, strong sense of
rhythm. But it's the little nuances that are just flat-out missing.
I never got a sense that they ever let it all hang out on this track.
And hey, mixing au natural is fine, but at least mix out the
Though I think this song is overdone, especially by
all-male college groups, this is one of the better versions I
have heard. The arrangement is pretty standard. The steady
percussion is notable, though — it keeps the song going.
Beautiful background blend.
The opening sounds quite square. The "bahs" just don't
cut it. The percussion feels a bit awkward in this one. I doubt that
it's really necessary. I really wonder how they're doing those brass
lines. There must be some processing going on there. The middle
section actually works pretty well, although the return to the "Bahs"
in the main verse are disappointing. I'm not sure if the ending of
this arrangement works. Still a strong sound and good singing.
This track is my favorite. There's plenty of energy,
the horns are frighteningly real-sounding, and the soloists do a great
job. The arranger went for a close-to-the-original sound, and pretty
much succeeded. Only a couple of tuning missteps and an odd,
almost-too-abrupt ending mar it.
I love this song! I was so thrilled to see it get
such great treatment. I don't want to know what they did to the horns
to get them to sound so cool — I liked it, that's good enough. I
wasn't crazy about the "listen children" part, but I'll let it slide.
Great solo, above average bassline, the occasional percussion has the
same force as in a Yes song, and those damn horns are so cool. The
solo substitutions are well executed, too — no loss in continuity.
This arrangement really works at its most complex (with
those incredible horns!), but breaks down to the pedantic when it
simplifies for the segment preceding the chorus. The polyrhythmic
counterpoint is well handled, and the horn sound is amazing, but it
couldn't hold my interest over the whole song.
This album is worth the price just to hear (and
appreciate) the vocal "horn section" in this song alone.
Wow. Nicely executed tempo changes, and difficult timing of
crossing parts in the background are carried off well. The
group could use another syllable in the background besides
A pretty straightforward, well performed "traditional" a
cappella piece that occasionally lapses into beauty. They need to be
a bit more careful with those semitones in the middle section. The
tenors start wandering right around there.
Okay, I give up; what the heck is this song about?
Whatever it is, they sing it reasonably well. The chords don't always
lock, and I'm not sure if the soloist is supposed to sound like
Freddie Mercury (he doesn't, really), but other than that it's
generally fun and some of the high chords do sound pretty Queen-like.
Using some syllables on the accompaniment figure other than 'doot-bah'
all the time would have helped.
Did this one have to be so loud? It's in decent
tune, but that beginning could sure use some dynamics. Besides
loudest. The rest of the song just bops a long with a typical beach
boys/marching-band bass line. Whee! Oooh, I love the "don't you hear
me calling yous" — that falsetto pride thing again. The final chorus
is the best part of the song, and the quartet is a great idea and
gives a rest from the frontal assault.
I can't recall the original by Queen, but I don't think
Queen sounded this much like the Kings Singers. The Xtension Chords
seem to have adopted the King Singers choral enunciation and complete
lack of soul without capturing the precise synchronicity of the group
Nice use of dynamics in the choral sections, and good,
smooth blend. Though not as tight as the previous tracks,
this song really moves. I was humming this one all day.
The style of the music suggests that they're trying for
a tropical, "Kiss dee Girl" sound. But the arrangement is a choral
one. As a result the whole song feels very straight, almost plodding.
There are a couple of spots where they experiment with vowel sounds,
but unfortunately they chose the wrong vowel. The soloist has a nice
voice, but doesn't sell the part enough.
Ack! The chorus to this song gets _really_ old! Man,
is it repetitive. The other parts of the song are fun, though;
sometimes I can't get the part where they're all singing "co-co" out
of my head. They also throw in a bit of "Kokomo" in at the end; they
apparently love to throw in extra songs. It works all right here.
Whoa. Calypso swing (too loud again, too heavy again)
but the beginning is still fun, and just when you get into it, mister
White Boy comes out and blithes through the solo like Timmy from
Lassie or some other paragon of American blandness telling about his
peachy-keen trip to the islands. Oh wait, isn't that what they were
shooting for? You be the judge. Pitch is fine, except for a few
questionable repetitions of the chorus hook at the end. The other
several hundred didn't bother me, though, so I'll cut them some slack.
This doesn't do much for me. Simplistic arrangement is
performed without dynamics or much attempt at blend for the first two
and a half minutes. By the time they got to the interesting part, I
no longer cared. Also the flange effect seems out of place here.
This one is a little choppy, and could be a lot
peppier. The solo is on and in tune, but a bit bland. The
deep bass part is good, but this track seems to drag on too
The opening shows off some remarkable resonance. At
times this group is organ-like. The first minute is particularly
difficult for the soloists, and they do an admirable job. The
arrangement tries very hard to generate some excitement, but I'm not
particularly fond of the source material. I just don't think there's
that much there to work with. The group is a bit rough at times.
Pink Floyd is difficult to pull off a cappella; they do
a respectable job here. The weakest element is the group of soloists;
they aren't always in tune with each other or the background, and they
don't really sound like they mean the lyrics. I kept expecting the
syncopations and sharp dropoffs of David Gilmour's singing style, but
instead got a very straight, choral, holding-to-the-end-of-the-beat
solo style. The arrangement is pretty creative, though. With a
different group of soloists the song could be quite wonderful.
I understand the concept of free time, but the
rhythm/phrasing just doesn't sound right for the first verse. The
quiet is nice, actually, the mix and dynamics are the best yet, though
I could have asked for more intensity from the basses in the
beginning. The interspersed wordless oohs are pretty good. _Great_
segue into the last verse, with the ultrabass — that's worth
listening to the whole damn thing. Wish they'd ended there — I was
feeling all warm and fuzzy and then got one more verse of Floyd — not
bad, but with that straining David Gilmoresque timbre.
In as much as the Pink Floyd version lacks the kind of
texture that would lead one to believe this would be a good a cappella
song, I guess the arrangement is OK, but the solos really need to be
wonderful on top of the blendy background, and they just aren't up to
snuff. Too many pitch problems in the harmonies. Musically, this
track seems like it came from a different group.
Points for attempting Pink Floyd, but I just don't
think their style translates very easily to a cappella.
Having said that, I will point out the very lush harmony at
the beginning, and the impressive sustained tones, especially
in the bass part. Some slight intonation problems in the
solos — they tend to waver at times.
I was quite skeptical when I saw this on the cd. It's a
pretty overplayed song. However, much to my delight, the arrangement
is chock full of charm. The beginning is very well conceived, with
the legendary "wimowe" chants being sung with a half time feel. (The
basses aren't completely on, but it's not too bad.) It's actually quite
exciting when they suddenly settle into the familiar groove. The rest
of the track is also filled with clever musical surprises. It's well
performed and quite entertaining to listen to. A special mention goes
to the 1st tenor soloist. His voice is beautiful.
Well, if you're going to do 'Lion,' this is the way to
do it. Throwing in portions of many other similarly-structured songs,
they keep the song from getting too repetitive. I also appreciate the
inclusion of TMBG's variation "In the spaceship, the silver
spaceship..." Tuning & rhythm are all fine. But really, even if
it's this good, did we need another 'Lion'?
White boys doing Ladysmith. That's okay, it's a good
cover of the Spike & Co. intro, and most audiences
couldn't pick out the difference. The reeeaally high
obligato is great, soft yet deliciously shrill.
Okay, here's where that lecture in the beginning
comes in. The solo is great — deadpan, I can just see
him in jeans and a t-shirt with a bow in his hair and
opera-singer clasped hands. Mary Janes would be
perfect, but it's so tough to find them in large sizes.
The song would also be perfect for elementary school
kids. They would love the Lion King reference, miss the
TMBG reference and get a kick out of the goofy antics —
these guys do sound really friendly and like they'd be
good with kids.
This is a really nice, very creative arrangement
journeying through the disparate styles this song has existed in. I
found the constant changes slightly aggravating, and the performance
spotty (the beginning was sublime, but "Brown Eyed Girl" needs a fast
infusion of a tonal center). Still, this is a clever and very
Don't cringe — it's not the same old tired version of
this song. This is a creative arrangement which includes
portions of various arrangements of this song, as well as
snatches of "Don't Worry, Be Happy," "Brown-Eyed Girl," and
even "Hakuna Matata" worked in. The solo is silky smooth -
Great Arrangement. It manages to feel rhythmically
complete with out being overly busy. The groups energy is fantastic.
They're just right on. The chorusing effect at the end is probably
unnecessary, but that certainly doesn't detract from a brilliantly
Good old rock & roll. Everyone's on top of this
song: the percussion is a lot of fun to listen to, the group's energy
is up, the soloist is good, and the arrangement is interesting. I
really liked it.
Like, totally eighties. Pass the hair spray, and
bump up the solo on the mixer on your way. I'm not fond of the
"ppsh!" sound on percussion ever, but otherwise the percussion is
good, particularly when combined with the claps. The call and
response spoken-word bridges are terrific, and that great Xchords
syllabification is in effect. The falsetto knockouts at the end have
just the right amount of studio effects and are a breath of fresh air.
This track has the same things going for it as the first
song. Good arrangement, strong energy, great percussion. The solos
are together, and if the basses drove the rhythm a little more, I
think this track would be just as enjoyable as the opener. As it is,
it is a good track.
Big points for authenticity here. If you are a fan of
the original, you'll love this. There are no holes here — it
is strong and solid. Good camera sound effects, and the
percussion is really fantastic!
Coming off of the previous track, the energy feels
really low on this one. There are pitch problems in the tenor lines.
It does some neat things in the middle section. But ultimately, it
doesn't really add any to the original song. I could do just fine
If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of
thing you'd like (the Beach Boys don't do it for me). It's certainly
a worthy attempt at the Beach Boy sound, with a lot of variations and
song-quoting to keep your attention. A lot of work went into this one
and it sounds good; it's just not music that I like.
Doot! doot! doot! (sorry, I got carried away.)
I'm not sure if it's a good thing that a big group of American college
students can sound so much like six balding Englishmen, but they do it
very well. I also thought the I Get Around stuff/tempo-change was a
A credible cover of the Kings Singers version of the
song. But it is without soul or any consciousness of how to sing rock
music. Mostly responsible for this lack of soul is the lead, who does
his best British accent. So let's see: an American vocal group
covering an arrangement by a bunch of British madrigalists who were
covering an American teeny-bopper group. Too many layers to
deconstruct here, but I would have liked to see some more forcefulness
in the lead voice.
A second Beach Boys tune here, and overall, not very
exciting. It's not bad, just not a real attention-grabber,
and it goes on for too long. The modulation is good, though,
and the whistling is a nice touch.
A little vocal quartet that seems a bit out of place on
the album. But still, I'm glad it's there. The vocal performance is
This was an odd change of pace: a relatively slow,
wordless piece by Crosby, Stills & Nash. I would have thought
that if they were going to throw in such a classical-sounding piece
that they would make sure it was absolutely top-notch. There are
enough tuning and vowel-matching problems that it doesn't qualify as
great; it's just OK. In addition, I don't find the piece to be that
interesting in the first place, no matter how well it's sung. This
piece didn't really add anything to the album for me.
The worst musical performance on "Shock Value", this is
riddled with massive pitch problems snuggled among the few nice
On this song without words, the group performs well as
a unit. It's a nice change of pace, and can be almost
meditative, but the tuning sounds a little off for much of the
Very standard a cappella fodder. The ensemble work is
tight. The soloist has a very nice voice. The arrangement isn't the
most brilliant one in the world, but it works just fine. I don't mind
listening to this at all.
Meat Loaf's version never did much for me, but this
one's got a lot to recommend it. The soloist has a really nice
approach to the song, and the harmony part fits well (despite one or
two times that the two don't lock). The arrangement is quite good;
the buildup to the end is especially well done, the bass part is
interesting, and the arranger does a good job of bringing the
background in on key words instead of just spouting meaningless
Every group needs something that one can listen to and
feel happy about, even when it's not at its best. This
song seems to fulfill that function, and the recorded
version is actually musically decent except for that
falsetto guy at the end who gets a little out of hand. I
must say, though, the "lickin' you, lickin' you"
transition into the second and last verses raised my
OK, I'm not a big Meatloaf fan, and this version didn't
inspire me to change my mind. It's very solid, and musically
together, but it just doesn't have much to say as a composition. Ken
Purchase arranges an excellent bridge, but I wanted the song to be
something it wasn't.
Great song choice — a bold undertaking. I'm not sure
about the choral interpretation of the Meatloaf song, though.
The beginning is weak, and the solo just doesn't quite pull
this song off. It's unique, at any rate. Not much like the
original, and much slower, but still fairly enjoyable to
It's a great showcase for their 1st tenor soloist. The
group is a bit ragged in a few spots, and even the soloist pulls a bit
sharp on a note or two. But most of it is very pretty.
Wow. Another Beach Boys song, but I really liked this
one. In fact, it's gorgeous. The soloist/falsettist on top of it all
really knows what he's doing, and the underlying chords are very well
sung, locking all the time. This is a beautiful song. Turn off all
the lights and crank this one up. Preferably with a date.
More words would have been nice. I could point out a
few questionable chords, a few nice spots, and say something lukewarm
about the tone of this song, but why bother.
A pretty nice doo-wop style Beach Boys lullabye,
performed with the classic Beach Boys nasal falsetto. I've never
heard the original, but I have a feeling this version is a very
A lovely doo-wop ballad, sung with an absolutely
beautiful falsetto. Smooth blend and full group sound. I
love this one.
The group brings out another song with a great groove.
There's just a lot going on in this arrangement, but again, it never
feels cluttered or hectic. Just a lot of energy. The extended ending
is a bit indulgent, but it's still a lot of fun.
This one's primarily a combination of some Roxette
material and the closing section of "Hey Jude". Each section by
itself is pretty cool; I don't know much Roxette, but this had a good
groove to it and the soloists had style. The 'Hey Jude' section is
entertaining, if only because you catch a different song quoted every
time. It is, however, LONG (of course). My biggest problem with this
one is the transition between the two sections; I would have preferred
a more seamless segue into 'Hey Jude'; as it is, it's like they're
announcing "Hey everybody, watch! We're CHANGING SONGS!" I say,
better to surprise the listener than telegraph your move.
This is an amazing arrangement!! The syllables on
"She's Got the Look" are wonderful, pitch is pretty good and the solo
almost has that Roxette sound. The "oh" ornaments during the verse
before the second chorus are clear and pretty and are a nice touch
over the jumble in the background — while nothing is too dirty,
something non-raspy is nice. The transition into "Joyride" is pretty
good — the falsetto echo reminds me of the unforgettable Michael
Callen, although he never would have been flat on the entrances. The
whistles are yet another example of the cool tricks lurking in this
arr. The Xchords' big and a little breathy-blended sound does make
the sound a trifle muddy and the not-in-a-bad way bottom-heavy
complicated stuff loses the bass, but it's still great. The basses
have some great moments — they are clearly having loads of fun and
blend wonderfully with each other. There's something wicked about
hearing this many men sing "we're all magic friends" in chest voice
and big chords and be dead serious. :]
You may have noticed my comments are way long — so is this song.
Like the comments, it could have been considered too long, but they
had so much they wanted to fit in. Luckily, most any pop song can be
sung over a Roxette chord structure so you're safe. I mean, Hey Jude
is immediately what comes to mind, right? And I would immediately mix
that with Beck, plus snippets from "Totally Eighties" and the
Dr. Demento archives — snicker. I laughed really hard the first time
I heard this. The recovery from "Leonard Bernstein" is very accurate,
so either they spent a lot of time overdubbing it in or they really
worked on the entrance. I loved the descant yeahs at the end, though
I couldn't identify them and a lot of other snippets. In closing, I'd
like to give the flame-o-rama award to the guy(s) who brought you
"heart and soul" and "what's up" and did them better than most groups
with women can manage (apologies to the goddess in the Faux Paz).
Portions of this song are just damn good, but it takes a
while to get off the ground. It does bother me that just as we had a
full head of steam going with "The Look", we medleyize into "Joyride".
This medley is clever, but it really distracts from the core
arrangement that really would have been maybe the best track on the
album. Some of the references are strained ("Freedom" is really
forced, so is "Right Here, Right Now"). This medley has no musical
raison d' etre.
Another uncommon song choice for this kind of group,
and this one is done well. It is performed with great energy
and attitude. I'm not sure it is their best song to end the
album with, but nonetheless, it's a solid and interesting
arrangement. The segue into/overlap with "Hey Jude" and a
plethora of other songs is clever and it works. They sample
too many songs to list here, but among my favorites are "Karma
Chameleon" and "James Brown Celebrity Hottub." Listen closely
at the end for lots of clever lines buried in the background.
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