PTX Volume 3 Review
There is (as usual) more here than meets the eye. Or should I say more than meets the ear?
Gene Simmons says that rock is dead.
It’s his assertion that, since the traditional method of making a mega hit superstar is now broken, due to piracy and, yes, that evil iTunes, music labels will no longer support a band or artist. All done. Over. No more Led Zeppelins or Michael Jacksons.
Sorry, Gene, as much as I respect your abilities, work-ethic, and tenacity, groups like Pentatonix prove your theory is solely based on “old-school” thinking. Yes, the music-label system has changed – but the same situation that you see as hopeless, others with an understanding of the New Internet Order (go ahead, use the term, I didn’t copyright it) are working this new system to their advantage.
“Weird Al” Yankovic may be from the generation before, but he is New Internet Order savvy (no, really, I’m kind of digging this term…); turning his label’s sad statement of, “sorry, no cash for videos, dude,” into partnerships with major web video portals who, not only got him the promotion that he needed, but pushed his newest release to an unprecedented number one debut for a comedy album. New system – new roads. New music will be made and heard. Maybe we won’t have monster supergroups that fill huge stadiums, but, frankly, we may actually have more artists stay with us in the land of the living, instead of being stomped-on and destroyed by the “old school,” it’s allowances and excesses.
Pentatonix has been working the new system since they won The Sing-Off in 2011, and their hard work has paid off. PTX Vol. 2 debuted at number 10 on the Billboard top 200, and number 1 on the independent charts, selling 31,000 copies in the first week. I totally just cribbed that last sentence from Wikipedia. I think it made me sound very intelligent.
The New Internet Order is, very simply put, fan club MAX. Using social media not only to garner followers, but supporters. No longer is an artist’s audience on the sidelines, waiting for a new release, but participating in the process, supporting their favorite acts by helping in the promotion, and, in many cases, donating money to the cause to help artists create their art. The old guard couldn’t do that. Gene has to figure out new things to slap the KISS name on to keep the machine rolling (an arena football team? Are you kidding?), while fans of Pentatonix can donate as little as a dollar a month to help them create monthly music videos on Patreon. And they DO. There’s no need to make Pentatonix cup-holders or hand-towels. I think lunch-boxes, however, might be cool.
So, here we are. The release of PTX Vol. 3. As you probably already know, I never do this “review” thing in a very traditional manner, so let’s ramble forward:
As usual, Pentatonix does not disappoint. Their usual strong arrangements are sent to fantastic heights by the exceptional production values. Once again, they approach their material, both original and covers of mainstream hits, with a professionalism that goes beyond their years. It’s a wonderful edition to their catalog.
The album begins with a cover of “Problem,” and Kevin starts it off with his, now signature, beat-boxing treatment, which lends plenty of punch. Another highlight is “On My Way Home,” with more intriguing beat-boxing prowess from Kevin, and a wonderful, full-sounding chorus of African-styled vocals. Okay, I AM a humorist, and admit that I wanted to grab a stuffed Simba during the song and hold him up for the world to see… Then again, I suppose that this also meant that the damn thing sounded as good as something by Sir Elton John from The Lion King, so you can take that any way you want.
Kevin also weighs in with his cello, and I say amen to that. Scott also sings in French, and I say tout à fait. They do this in their cover of “Papatoutai,” a song by the Belgian artist Stromae. Also along for the ride in this tune is violinist Lindsey Stirling (another person who has tackled the New Internet Order with much success). I officially give Pentatonix permission to add instruments and guests more often. Go ahead, bring in The Piano Guys, I won’t complain.
Everyone gets strong moments in individual songs – the team is truly a team. Scott, the unofficial “front man” of the group, continues to show his pop/rap/insert-some-style-here vocal abilities, and is in fine form, once again. I don’t know how many of his five-octave range Mitch uses in the song “See Through,” but he’s all over that song like pink on a tutu. I know that Shawn Stockman meant all the best when he said Mitch’s voice was “pretty” on the Sing-Off – but I don’t like that term. Freakishly Amazing is a term that I prefer. Kirstie continues to prove she can not only match the likes of a young Madonna, but actually can sing circles around her, as well as many of the current female pop and dance vocalists currently filling the airwaves (Can I actually use the term “airwaves,” anymore? does that mean I’m old? Sadly, yes it does…) Avi is a vocal bassist who also has a range that would destroy mere mortal men – and we get to hear some of that range in the closing song of this release, “Standing By.”
Look, Pentatonix is an amazing happening. They have become ambassadors of a cappella, and have pushed it back into the mainstream. They have also pushed it in directions that it hasn’t really gone before, with arrangements and stylings that are truly their own, and (I assume) kids are now emulating in high school and college groups across the country. Their newest album is well-worth the purchase – move your mouse over to that evil iTunes and snap up a copy. I’d say that supplies are limited, but in the New Internet Order, supplies never run out. Somewhere in Japan, former CD manufacturing plants are re-tooling to make those funky water hoses that crumple into a little ball when you turn off the water. I mentioned “Weird Al,” earlier, and, believe it or not, he and Pentatonix share a common thread in my mind: I always like their cover better than the original song from which it was derived.
So, after all is said and done, why did I feel that something was missing?
Don’t start booing me. This isn’t America’s Got Talent, and I’ve already mentioned that you should buy the damn album. Play nice, kids – Don’t make turn this blog-thingy around…
Here’s the rub – I think I’m jaded. Do a job too well, and your boss expects you to do twice as much next time. It’s a problem that successful people have in all walks of life. It’s why the next Michael Bay film will have even MORE explosions than the last one (help me, Lord). Usually, a successful music group has a problem with their sophomore effort – the second album has a lot to live up to after the first success. In the case of Pentatonix, the second album exceeded the first one in every respect, and hit with amazing force. Somehow, I wanted to get smacked in the face just as hard with PTX Vol. 3.
So, I chalk-up any misgivings to the fact that I don’t know JACK about all the hard-work that Pentatonix put into PTX Vol. 3. I know it’s there, but to me, a layman that only knows how to play the radio, it’s more of the same: Amazing music by kids with so much talent that I want to scream and stomp on whomever told me I should get a regular job and be dependable when I was nineteen. There. I said it: Someone owes me an apology for telling me I shouldn’t quit my day job. I hate you.
But I do have a short story to tell. Being older, now, I know stories. Even stories about musicians. And, since the members of Pentatonix are well-versed in many forms of music, I’ll bet they’ll even know who I’m writing about – The rest of you can look it up on Google.
Alan Parsons, one of the most amazing producers on the planet, founded The Alan Parson’s Project with Eric Woolfson. They were very successful In England – and they had quite a following in the US, as well. But they had a friend (Lee Abrams) who held them accountable. Even after their tremendous success, he asked them, “Where is your Walrus?” Referring to the Beatles classic song, “I Am The Walrus.” Where was the Project’s defining moment? They took that to heart, and on their next album, Stereotomy, you will find a song titled, “Where Is The Walrus?” It was their response, and quite an amazing piece of music. Do I think it was REALLY their “Walrus?” No. The Project had quite a body of work, with many highlights – And that wasn’t really the point – But to strive to break boundaries, to always push yourself to the highest standard of your craft; that’s the Walrus.
Pentatonix already has an amazing body of work in just a few short years. PTX Vol. 3 continues the tradition, and is excellent – this one just doesn’t happen to be their Walrus.
But it’s coming. Of that, I have absolutely no doubt.