The Blue Man Group recently released their second CD, entitled The Complex. Following are four of the many highlights on the disc. Song titles link to mid-fi MP3 excerpts.
“Sing Along” features Dave Matthews on vocals. The lyric is deceptively simple, yet it makes me think; the Blue Man Group has a knack for packing lots of ideas into few words. Matthews’ performance is a perfect complement to both the lyric and the music. His vocal control allows him to inject the maximum amount of soul into a minimal vocal track.
The MP3 excerpt contains a line of scat singing, which is an inspired accompaniement to a band that’s essentially a percussion ensemble and a song that has few lyrics. That is, rather than sing more words when none are necessary, Matthews uses his voice as an instrument, providing the sound of a vocal without the baggage of text.
In the second half of the excerpt, Matthews takes the concept of instrumental singing a step further as he sings an ascending scale to introduce a harmony vocal part. The brilliant thing is the timing. He’s singing three-over-four (twice), so that the notes come on the e of 1, 2, a of 2, + of 3, e of 4, or in other words, every third 16th note. He starts the pattern one-sixteenth after the downbeat, so it resolves on the downbeat (15 16ths later) when the harmony vocal comes in. This is art!
“Shadows Pt. 2” features Tracy Bonham on vocals. Conceptually, this piece is similar to “Sing Along”; Bonham’s voice takes the part of a string section as she sings a high melody (with no words) above the groove. The second half of the excerpt showcases a surprisingly musical exchange between Rob Swift’s scratching and the Blue Men’s airpoles. I admit I’m a sucker for call-and-response, but even with that bias I think this passage is a lot of fun. I’ll also admit that I didn’t realize I was hearing two musicians playing off of each other until I saw the video (included on the CD), because the two instruments sound similar. It’s all white noise, created by black and Blue men, and it’s exceptionally cool.
“Persona” is a straight-ahead rock tune, with Josh Haden on vocals. The lyrics are simple and haunting, as is characteristic of the album. The tone of Haden’s voice matches the dark mood of the song; the result sticks in memory. It’s a Monday sort of song.
“White Rabbit” is of course a remake of the Jefferson Airplane classic. I believe the Blue Man Group stage show includes a few moments of this song. Hearing this full-band orchestration was shocking, though, because the build into that opening verse is one of the greatest musical passages on the record. This is a song you’ll play loud and repeatedly, assuming you have ears and a pulse.
There is a comedic aspect to a Blue Man performance, and although this is a serious album, in fact a somewhat dark and introspective album, there are moments of light which I won’t overexpose here except to mention that one of the videos on the enhanced CD made me laugh out loud.
All in all this is a rewarding, enjoyable CD. It’s different from their first release (Audio), although if you liked that one you’ll probably like this one too (even if the reverse is not necessarily the case).
See the Amazon link below for additional song samples.
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