Top critical review
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Like a very good school choir
on 31 December 2011
I bought this album having been blown away by their cover of With or Without You. What impressed me most about that performance was that it was a true **arrangement** for choir, and not a mere transcription of an original. Too many choirs sing pop songs by simply duplicating all of the instruments in "bap dap dap" fashion, and the result is almost never well suited to voices. But Scala sang their own version of the song, transforming it in the process, showing us something in it that we hadn't heard before. This is what arrangements should do. And it was sung simply, purely, with tasteful piano accompaniment and judiciously-placed harmonies. I give With or Without You five stars, and if you can purchase just that song for download, I recommend it.
But as you listen to the album, a formula begins to emerge. Up-tempo songs are preserved more or less as recorded, with the piano supplying the rhythm and harmony, and the choir taking the vocals. More introspective songs are generally slowed down, and sung quietly and sadly. Few songs are improved by this process. Smells Like Teen Spirit is interesting, stripping away the grunge-rock to get at something darker and more introspective, and substituting Nirvana's alternating quiet / loud structure for one gradual build in volume. But their version of Radiohead's "Creep" takes the same approach, and I started to question whether smoothing out the cathartic outbursts of anger, replacing them with a constant passivity, is really such a good idea.
The choir is good. They sing in tune, and their voices blend well together, but unison melodies (with occasional harmony) are not difficult to sing, and this choir is always well within its comfort zone. They sing accurately, but that's about it. If this was a school choir (which is what I thought when I first heard them), it would be very impressive indeed. But from an adult choir, we should expect some more engagement with the music. The sense of "easiness" comes through in the music. It's undemanding, both on the choir and the listener, and consequently its rewards are rather shallow.