HomeRecording Review: Colorado College The Back Row's "Go Nuts!"

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Back in 2006, Colorado College’s The Back Row made quite a splash with their debut album, Unleash the Periscope.  From that debut album, The Back Row landed themselves on BOCA 2007 as well as in the hearts of the aca-community.  I expected nothing less than awesomeness when I popped their most recent release, Go Nuts!, into my CD player.  Sadly, I was disappointed.  Now, I don’t want you to get me wrong here.  This is a good album.  It’s just not great.  While a few of the tracks are absolutely stellar, the middle-of-the-road outweigh the good.  I feel like an American Idol judge when I say this, but song choice really is everything.

During their cover of R.E.M.’s "Man on the Moon", I find myself completely bored by the simplicity of the arrangement, but then I catch myself singing along and bouncing in my chair during the choruses.  My main issue with this song is the throwback attitude I get from it.  From the “dvv” percussion to the “oo sha na na” syllables in the intro, everything reminds me of 90s male a cappella.  While I think that this song is probably a great one for their live performances, I think that it should stay off the recorded aca-circuit.  It’s a fun song, but not right for this medium of entertainment.

Also appearing on the track list is Chumbawamba’s hit "Tubthumping".  I’m having a really hard time finding words to describe this track.  It’s fun, but that’s pretty much all.  I think the running theme with this album is a lack of stellar musicality.  At the same time, I’m sure that they are very musical.  Afterall, one of the members of the group, Edwin Stevens, did all of the recording and editing for the album (he is also credited with six of the ten arrangements).  But when you try to tackle a song like "Tubthumping", there’s just no where to go with it.  In the original, there’s no epic solo, rocking percussion, or slamming guitar solo.  There’s nothing you can latch onto in the original and bring out in your version to impress your audience.

Now that I’ve forced you through the “ehh”, it’s time for the good.  I wasn’t surprised when I saw Owl City’s "Fireflies" on the line-up.  What I was surprised by was that I enjoyed it.  Every group around is doing this song right now, and this is probably one of my favorite versions.  The arrangement, done by Ben Perdue, is absolutely flawless.  It’s so interesting and intricate and precise and perfectly executed.  The only thing that takes away from the track is the baseline in the second verse.  It’s very exposed and almost too precisely executed.  Do you know what I mean?  It sounds almost like whoever was in the booth (or in Stevens’ closet) recording was freaking out about getting the rhythm right.  But you know what?  If that’s the only gripe I can come up with from this song, I’ll take it.  This is the kind of music that I expected from these guys—at least I was able to get a little taste of it.

The more I listen to this album, the more it grows on me.  But at the same time, I find it hard to focus.  The whole CD is filled with sound.  Constantly.  There’s never really a break for the listener—no ballad.  The only “slow song” is filled with so much production and that classic all-male wall of sound that it don’t really seem like the slow emotional piece that it is.  "Brighter than Sunshine" appears on the track list, with a guest arrangement from the group’s founder, Ian Goldstein.  This is another one of my favorite tracks on the album, but not because of the way I hear it, but because of what I hear in my head—what it could be.  As is, I think it was recorded at too fast a tempo and the percussion is too heavy throughout most of the song.  There’s a re-occurring funk-wah effect on the background vocals throughout the song and I feel like it takes away from the beauty of the song.  You know, sometimes I wish I could attach clips to these reviews.  If you happen to have a copy of the CD, listen to this track starting at 2:17.  The percussion drops down to a really simple easy rhythm and the guys in the back are on “ah” and they are just ripping into the chord that Goldstein wrote for them.  That is probably the best moment on this album.  All you can hear is voices.  No production, no crazy percussion.  Just voices, and sometimes that’s the best thing to give to your audience. I sing along every time. Guaranteed.

So now that I’ve rambled on for far too long, let’s focus all my comments.  This album is rightfully named.  It is truly nuts.  As one cohesive unit, this album makes absolutely no sense, but individually almost all of these tracks can stand on their own. Go Nuts! jumps from Chumbawamba to Incubus and takes the listener on a really intense/ADD journey.  For me personally, a top-notch album includes cohesiveness.  I wouldn’t recommend buying the whole album, but if you can purchase individual tracks, I would definitely invest my two dollars in "Fireflies" and "Brighter than Sunshine".  Nevertheless, these guys should be very proud of the album that they have produced.  In every way, it is a very fun CD.  I just wouldn’t be expecting a nomination for best male collegiate album when next year’s CARAs roll around.  On the other hand, they might be in for a nomination for best male collegiate song.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

http://www.myspace.com/ccbackrow

About the author:
Jill Clark has been involved in music since age 5, singing, playing guitar, drums and piano. She is a member of UNC-G Sapphires, who were the 1st place competition winners at SoJam 2008. Clark also won Best Vocal Percussion at SoJam '07 and '08 for VP within the group. Jill has been singing since age 5, playing guitar since age 9, and now playing drums and piano, as well as being a member of the UNC-G Sapphires; these passions have culminated into a pure love for a cappella music.