Glee - The Music Volume 2 - Glee Album Review
Whilst it seems highly unlikely that fashionable television guilty pleasure Glee will ever 'do a Lost' and descend into tales of the most unexpected, the novelty will inevitably wear off at some point.
A similar path was trod by Ugly Betty. The initial hook for that show being that America Ferrera's Betty Suarez was far too unattractive to work somewhere as fashionable as Mode magazine but - you know what? - she does. Yep. Go girl. But soon enough, viewers warmed to Betty's clumsy charm and realized she was just a pretty girl in braces and ill-fitting clothes. The idea got old.
For Glee, as with Ugly Betty, a loyal fan base will almost certainly remain but the shameless, homespun, come-on-everyone-loves-a-sing-along shtick will wear thin and the plot will need to go to new, less interesting places. And the nature of Glee's two-pronged assault on both telly and music charts means that it will need to continue to compete on two fronts.
But, on the face of it, what's not to like? Talented Broadway stars like Lea Michele, who plays Rachel Berry, were cast alongside singing first-timers such as actor Cory Monteith (playing Finn Hudson) with great success. Those two in particular are expertly cast; both being somehow geeky and gawky yet undeniably attractive. And this really sums up the appeal of Glee - it's a sexy spod of a show.
Despite great ratings and a warm reception from critics, it is fair to say that Fox and the producers of Glee realize how heavily they must front-load their marketing and merchandising campaigns to avoid pitching too much of their product to an inevitably dwindling audience later this year or next. And they're not taking any chances. The first season aired in the US in September 2009 (a pilot had been shown in May) and, to date, 48 singles have been released there. Forty-eight.
Consequently, weeks after Glee debuted on Channel4/E4, a second volume of show-style cover versions from the glee club misfits at Ohio's William McKinley High is already upon us.
So what of the new collection? Glee: The Music Volume 2 is, much like the first compilation, essentially an original cast recording of a musical full of other people's songs. Thus it is not entirely dissimilar to the soulless crap that Ben Elton now shits out on an increasingly frequent basis. Unlike Ben Elton, however, the writers of Glee get their own joke and they realize that we get it too. As a result, the selection of covers is well balanced between those you already know, those you don't and those you didn't realize you knew.
Songs from original artists as diverse as Lily Allen (Smile), Barbra Streisand (Don't Rain On My Parade), Van Halen (Jump) and Charlie Chaplin (the other Smile) give the collection a surprising depth. Part of Glee's charm is that the whole concept is a bit/very cheesy and the crisp, sugary, Broadway renditions really should grate more than they do. But somehow, it works thanks, largely, to the song selection.
At least it works for the first few listens. After that, the listener quickly begins to crave the original versions. The charm wears off especially quickly when Glee stretches credibility to its limit with covers of the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always get What You Want and John Lennon's heaven-sent Imagine. But even the covers of modern-era American pop classics struggle.
A case in point: There was a time when Journey's Don't Stop Believin' was the most downloaded MP3 in history. This had nothing to with Glee and had everything to do with the fact that it was the soundtrack to the final, iconic scene of The Sopranos. Fans of The Sopranos - and no doubt fans of Journey - will have been pleased that it returned to the airwaves having featured in Glee. Many radio playlists rotated it with the Glee cast version, which was a refreshing and faithful rendition. But how long was it before the warm, cheery feelings brought on by the opening chords were replaced by an overwhelming desire for it to be the original version this time please?
The cover version grew old very quickly, as will Glee, and as does Glee: The Music Volume 2. Their glossy, vocals-to-the-front take on The Police's Don't Stand So Close To Me is interesting. Once. But who'd want to OWN it? The Technicolor burst of mediocrity that is Jennifer Paige's Crush is actually given a shot in the arm by the Glee treatment but it remains too feeble a track to stand out in any enduring sense.
Glee is a deserved success and the songs of Glee are well chosen, expertly delivered show karaoke of the highest quality. But they are sing-along versions of someone else's songs. When this is Van Halen's Jump or Cyndi Lauper's True Colours - both pure Americana - it works, sort of. But these successes are few and far between.
They're fun and refreshing and funny and then they're not. Then we want the originals. Except for Jennifer Paige, Glee can keep that one.
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