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April 27, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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The Volunteers – Friends Family & Fools (Universal)

I have driven from California to Ohio with a musical theatre aficionado. Yes, he played the Les Mis soundtrack repeatedly. No, he was not hetero. Yes, we tried to compromise with the music. No, our compromises weren’t satisfactory. Yes, our compromises did include Destiny’s Child. No, fuck you, pretentious Salient reader. Yes, I take it back.

Moral of the story: I never want to listen to musical theatre again unless it’s on a stage where it belongs. This is why I was so disheartened to hear the cheesy horn intro of The Volunteers’ latest album Friends Family & Fools. Disheartened turned into distraught when a female chorus of “sha la la la” followed close behind. It was like that 35-hour car ride had come back to haunt me, but this time with a rock-opera twist.

It is a struggle to describe the album, but for this I blame the artist. Each song jumps from genre to genre, with vague cohesion coming in the form of liberal funk undertones. I thought I liked funk, but now I’m not so sure. It’s like when I thought I liked feta, but then I ate this feta that was in the fridge for like two months and it tasted like vom and now I’m very cautious. It’s just like that.

Feta and this album have something else in common, too: cheese. I do not mean this literally. (An Edam album? I wish!) Rather, it is as though behind every note, every beat, every funk-filled moment, The Volunteers are winking at me. A big, cheese filled wink that says “we’re pretty alright.” Except that they’re not pretty alright. I find this cheesiness especially aggravating because the band clearly has talent. There is plenty of skillful musicianship to be found, but somewhere in their lack of risk-taking, in their attempt to borrow liberally from every popular music genre of the 20th century, in their contrived electric guitars and overproduction, well, things went a little awry.

The second track, ‘Hold on to this one’ epitomises these issues. There are bom chicka wow wow-style beginning beats, topped by inane lyrics “In a bar one night this girl she said to me:/Do you like my shoes?/Because one is red and one is blue/Which one is best I cannot choose.” Dr. Seuss is rolling in his grave.

Still, though, the big issue is genre. Each track tries something different, something extra, something new. Volunteers, I think you bit off more than you can chew. It reminds me of when you’re a kid and you mix all your paints together in an attempt to create a new colour that’s cooler than a rainbow, but then you just end up with what looks like a pool of diarrhoea. Genres found in this album: musical theatre, big band, pop, acoustic rock, country, soul, ‘I just smoked a pack’ jazz, quiz show music, prog rock, folk, Pink Panther jazz, soundtrack to The Truman Show, and gospel. Oh, and funk of course.

This album is like the soundtrack to an Off-Off Broadway show exploring multiple personality disorder through song. And not in a good way.

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  1. Reptilian says:

    This perfectly states everything I knew was wrong with this outfit but couldn’t put into words. Strongly-worded but great review. However, please never review anything I or my compatriots create.

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