Ringmasters II (2014) – Ringmasters
If you’ve seen one barbershop performance in your life, it will have been the Ringmaster’s 2008 Barbershop Harmony Society victory performance of a Hunchback of Notre Dame medley. I already knew I liked a cappella and harmonies but this group is what really got me into barbershop. While I’ve since become an avid fan of 2017 champions Main Street (Tony DeRosa has won the aforementioned championship four times!!), and a huge admirer of the New Fangled Four’s insistence on making us laugh instead of winning medals, I always come back to these ionic Swedes. They only have a few studio albums to choose from, and while I was tempted by their third album, which also includes a lot of songs in Swedish, it is a Christmas album, and this challenge occurred in April. So Ringmasters II it was.
Usually, studio albums are a huge benefit for a cappella, but live barbershop is already mixed so well, at least the BHS championships, that I didn’t feel this recording was a significant improvement. If anything, I find it less impressive than the live performance recordings simply because the quality is the same and this isn’t live. The songs are still good though; they played some barbershop classics, as well as a couple of barbershop takes on more contemporary bops. ‘I Love Being Here With You’ is just a staple, and made the playlist. ‘Java Jive’ sounds like a round kids’ song in a primary school assembly. ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ had a low post (the note held for an impressively long time which the other parts usually rise to meet for the coda at the end of the song) which was unusual. I’ve always preferred a high note, but it was cool to hear something different. Possibly the biggest downside to binging a whole album of barbershop is that the tags/codas at the end tend to be relatively identical in every song, so this was refreshing, even if I didn’t love the song as a whole. In ‘True Colours’ and ‘Smile’ they share the lead part around a little which is nice, and goes to show how talented each member is by letting them rise above their stations. For perhaps a more relatable comparison, it reminds me of when Pentatonix gives Kevin a day off from beatboxing and we get to hear him sing. The latter, ‘Smile’, along with ‘All Shook Up’, probably had my favourite tags from the album, so those made the playlist also.
Cover art: 9/10 All three albums are a similar arty/filtered image of the heads of the group members in different colours. They also seem to smile more as they progress. Will be interesting to see future art for Ringmasters IV to see if the trend continues [edit from the future: it did not].
Album name: 8/10 I actually really like albums just being named numerically. Makes my life a lot easier.
Overall vibe: Just a less good version of the Barbershop Harmony Society YouTube channel.
Dead Man’s Party (1985) – Oingo Boingo
Alan Silvestri, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman are all among the great film composers of the late-20th and 21st centuries, Elfman is (I believe) the only one to have first had success as a rock/punk/ska/experimental music band from the 1970s-90s. His film score work includes Beetlejuice, Batman, Nightmare Before Christmas, 50 Shades of Grey, Spy Kids, Justice League, and Avengers Age of Ultron. I first noticed him as the additional scorer for the film adaptation of the jazz musical, Chicago (I still want ‘After Midnight’ and ‘Roxie’s Suite’ to score my life). The man is having a renaissance right now it seems, having performed live at Coachella 2022 to a great public reaction. I was excited then, to dive into Elfman’s pre-film score era work.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but I still can’t help being disappointed. It’s a hot take but I wonder whether everybody who raves about ’80s music just either grew up in the ’80s or grew up listening to the music their parents (who did grow up in the ’80s) liked, not being exposed to anything better and/or more recent because I still just do not get the hype. To be fair, I don’t really like modern rock either, so maybe I need to listen to more pop and indie folk from that time. ‘Just Another Day’ was decent but it was way too long. I preferred ‘No One Lives Forever’ – it sounded like something from Nightmare Before Christmas crossed with Lazy Town’s ‘We Are Number One’. The song ‘Stay’, I like a little more now after repeated listens, but originally sort of blended in with the other tracks. ‘Weird Science’ is the only obvious bop, even having never seen that film, but I also quite enjoyed ‘Fool’s Paradise’ – the chorus reminded me of something from Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Cover art: 7/10 It’s fine, it relates to the name I guess, but it’s inexplicably Day of the Dead themed. If any of the members(s) of Oingo Boingo celebrated that then fine, but if not then maybe the skeletons could have had a party without wearing sombreros.
Album name: 8/10 Decent name, kind of dull, but sometimes it’s hard to differentiate boring from classic.
Overall vibe: “I am old, but still fun!! But mostly old”.
Next time: Nothing That’s it! We’re finally done!