by Stuart Elmore
Pentatonix released their newest EP Volume IV, also known as “Classics”, on Friday April 7th. The EP consists of seven songs: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the World War Two tune “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, A-ha’s “Take On Me”, Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with Dolly herself featured in the song. PTX announced and advertised this EP with the release of their music video of “Imagine”. They also released the song early for anyone who preordered the EP. On the surface, this may seem like a good move on Pentatonix’s part. PTX has suffered some criticism for their newer albums such as Deluxe Edition when they switched from covers to originals. So when I saw the track list on this EP, I got really excited. I have been a Pentaholic since they won the Sing-Off in 2011. I admit I was not an avid fan of the show so I didn’t really hear about them much while the season was airing, but I looked back at all of their performances during the season. The fact that Pentatonix was moving back to covers and also covering such brilliant masterpieces, I was pumped. Unfortunately, the EP is fairly mediocre with numerous tracks committing the sin of repetitive arrangements with not much dynamic range. When reviewing the EP I will be scoring based on the Innovative Arrangement of the collection, the Entertainment Value and the Importance of the music.
Bohemian Rhapsody was not the worst of the EP but it’s certainly nothing special. Whenever a group/band tries to take on (no pun intended) this prized jewel, the issue that is always presented is the lack of opportunity to expand on it. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is great song. No one denies that, and anyone who dares to simply is not making an educated statement. There are numerous aspects of the song that makes it come alive: its iconic choral setting with the dissonant harmonies and the electric guitar features. Nobody has covered this song successfully by omitting those prized passages. That’s the issue with the PTX cover. It’s a remake of the original but just a cappella, heck there’s even a spot when Mitch Grassi, the group’s tenor/alto voice mimics the guitar solo note for note. Overall the a cappella arrangement is entertaining but it is an exact replica of the songs orchestration and therefore lacks importance and is not that innovative. Lastly, I’m suspicious of the fact that PTX had done a short segment of this song on their “Evolution of Music” video which sounds incredibly similar. More on that later.
If you’re looking for any reason to buy this album, search no more. PTX’s cover of “Imagine” is a beautiful rendition of an already heart-filled song with amazing passion present within the performance. Pentatonix first advertised for the EP with the release of their music video of “Imagine”. The video may make some people cry and carries the bulk of the emotional impact. In the past, PTX had been known for being politically neutral or almost absent. Sure, some of the members have their own branches of media where they display their personal thoughts, but the group as a whole generally does not make a grand stance on certain issues, nor do they make a big stance in this video. What they do, however, is send a message that is true to the lyrics John Lennon wrote. Each member towards the middle of the video holds a sign that represents a group that they are a part of. Mitch and Scott both hold up “LGBTQ+”, Scott holds up a sign that says “Man”, hands it to Avi who holds up “Jewish” and “American” to which Kevin holds up “Black” and “Christian”, and finally Kristin holds up “Latina” and “Woman”. This sends a powerful message and after Kristin holds up the last sign the group breaks out into this spectacular coda with each voice harmonizing and screaming the lyric “Live as one”. Once the coda ends, Kevin repeats the main lyric “You may say I’m a dreamer…” with the group joining in and eventually reaching unison with the finishing line “and the world will live as one”. During this, the group picks up each of their signs again but instead of the previous words, each sign holds a letter and when read in order reads, “HUMAN”. A message that was well needed and presented in a way that could not have been done more beautifully. This arrangement is incredibly innovative, entertaining and the emphasis on the lyrics makes it a very important piece. Go watch the video, cry and then go buy this song at least.
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
This is a fun song. It’s not spectacular or life changing, just fun. PTX has done this same arrangement in their “Evolution of Music” video during the “1940’s” portion about two minutes in the video. Because of that, this song didn’t really surprise me in any way. It still had a fun jingle and you will have a good time listening to it. The arrangement is not that innovative because it is an expansion of a segment from their video. It’s entertaining but is not that important due to its repetitive nature and lifeless lyrics. That’s pretty much all there is to this song.
Over The Rainbow
In case you haven’t picked up on it, PTX also has done an arrangement of this song in the past as well. You won’t find it on Pentatonix’s channel but you will on Todrick Hall’s in his “Wizards of Ahhs” video. Putting that aside, the arrangement of this song didn’t really do anything for me. It’s very repetitive and at one dynamic level throughout the entire length, which is a shame because “Over The Rainbow” has a lot of beautiful renditions of it that takes it in a variety of directions that surprisingly works. Unlike “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Over The Rainbow” has that capability and PTX just didn’t take advantage of that in this one This piece scores right in the middle for its repetitive arrangement and unentertaining dynamics. It at least treats the lyrics with some importance.
Take On Me
Ah yes, who can do a “Classics” cover album and not do A-ha’s “Take On Me”? Like “Bugle Boy”, “Take On Me” in its own right is a fun song, but like “Over The Rainbow”, it stays at one dynamic level the entire song. The song itself has a pretty standard form (Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus) so I can’t really bash PTX for that, but other than some cool harmonies and passages, it’s a straightforward a cappella cover of an 80’s song that doesn’t take any interesting turns.
Can’t Help Falling In Love
This falls just short of “Imagine” as one of the best songs on the EP. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” is the opposite of “Bohemian Rhapsody” where every artist in the country could do a cover of this song and no one would be upset, because it’s just that beautiful of a song with beautiful lyrics and a lot of expressive potential. PTX takes advantage of that by making this a full 5-part arrangement. They have done this in songs like “Run To You” and “Silent Night” on their Christmas album. There’s always a song that PTX comes out with that becomes the “a cappella/show choir ballad 101” song, and I have a feeling this arrangement will win that title for this EP. There’s not much else to say about this piece since they don’t change the dynamic level, but they don’t have to with this song. As stated earlier, this song doesn’t need those special ornaments or decorations to maintain the spectacle of the song. The importance of the lyrics does that for itself, and the 5-part harmonies express it spectacularly.
Why is this here? I must admit that I’m not really a country music fan (who really is anymore?), and I’m also not fond of Dolly Parton as a singer. I’m especially not a fan of her vocals mixed with Pentatonix’s stylistic, a cappella voicing. In all seriousness, this had to be one of those situations where they needed a seventh song and they thought they could bring this song in that they did September of last year and no one would notice. Well I noticed, and I’m disappointed they didn’t pick another iconic classic that would’ve taken this EP over the edge. “Jolene” primarily features Dolly Parton as the main soloist with PTX singing backup vocals. There is a moment in the beginning of the second half where Parton drops out and Scott takes over the lead with Kirstin and Mitch building cool harmonies, but they shortly return to singing backup vocals to Parton. Overall, a really disappointing closer to the EP.
I give this EP a 6 out of 10 for Innovative Arrangements, a 7 out of 10 for Entertainment Value, and a 6 out of 10 for Importance of the Lyrics. I do not necessarily believe this EP is terrible but there were a lot of missed opportunities that PTX could have taken. As much as I have griped about the expansion of previous arrangements, I would take a mediocre a cappella arrangement of “Don’t Stop Believin’” over Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” any day. I highly recommend watching both of their music videos that are on YouTube and preview their song “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. If those three things sell the entire thing to you, then by all means. However, be warned that there is a lot of filler material that you may or may not be more inclined to just listen to “Imagine” for a seventh time instead.
All Images From: Youtube
The innovative arrangement scores a 6 because most of their songs were either exact replicas of the original’s instrumentation or repetitive a cappella techniques with little variation. There are a few moments that make you go, “Wow,” but not that many.
The entertainment value gets a 7 because while the arrangements were not incredibly impressive, the call back and nostalgia of these songs performed by our favorite a cappella artists was something worth paying for. These are pretty good songs to put on in the car with the windows down and attempt to sing Mitch Grassi’s part, but deep down we all know we cannot.
The importance of the lyrics is a 6 primarily because the majority of these songs suffer from repetition so much that it takes away what the song is communicating. Besides “Imagine”, the flat dynamic level of each song does not emphasize the important dialogue that the composers had written out.
Importance of Lyrics
Ryan is a Music Media Production major who wrote the first ever Byte music review and has been involved with nearly every other section at some point. He is also an event planner at Village Green Records and the primary booking coordinator for the store’s outdoor concerts.