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Another good "Glee" collection.
on May 23, 2011
The sixth regular musical collection from the hit TV series "Glee" (there having previously been additionally a few other special collections, either holiday-themed or devoted to specific episodes) is a decent cross-section of the music from episodes 17 to 22 of the second season. This is one of the larger stretches of episodes covered by a single CD among the recent collections, and I'd argue that it shows in some of the omissions. However, one obviously can't include everything (nor should one, since, much like pop culture in general, not everything to show produces is ultimately very good).
Compared to some past collections this year, it doesn't feel like any major voices from the show are significantly underrepresented. It's also worth noting the significant presence of several major guest-stars on this CD: not just Gwyneth Paltrow, who has had songs on two previous volumes, but also Charice, Kristin Chenoweth, and Jonathan Groff. The individual songs on this volume are:
1. "Turning Tables" (originally by Adele) - the sole contribution to this album from returning guest star Paltrow is the first of two Adele covers here (the other of which also features a returning guest star). Paltrow has impressed as a surprisingly good singer in the past, and she does fine here, but she lacks the distinctiveness that has made Adele stand out. Competent.
2. "I Feel Pretty/Unpretty" (a mashup of songs originally from the musical "West Side Story" and TLC) - one of the standouts of the collection, and the season as a whole, is this affecting mashup featuring Lea Michele (Rachel) and Dianna Agron (Quinn). Agron is arguably the weakest female singer in the cast generally, but this is by far the best work that she has ever done. Superb.
3. "As If We Never Said Goodbye" (originally from the musical "Sunset Boulevard") - Chris Colfer (Kurt) delivers another Broadway diva cover, this time easily my favourite of the bunch that he's done. This is an affecting cover of a lesser-known Andrew Lloyd Webber song that stands on its own while also gaining considerable effect from the story context in which it was sung.
4. "Born This Way" (originally by Lady Gaga) - the cast revisits Lady Gaga, with Colfer, Amber Riley (Mercedes) and Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina) taking the lead. The cast are fine and well-suited to Gaga (as per last year's "Bad Romance", which also featured all three of them), but I don't care for this song at all in its original.
5. "Dreams" (originally by Fleetwood Mac) - the first of four covers from the Fleetwood Mac episode, featuring guest star Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison (Will), who doesn't get to sing nearly as much as his talent merits. A fine cover.
6. "Songbird" (originally by Fleetwood Mac) - the second cover, this time a solo for Naya Rivera (Santana), who, after a number of impressive major outings, gets a really emotional song to perform, rather than just something high-energy but low on significance. Rivera is exemplary, as usual, and this cover is actually even more minimalist in instrumentation than the original.
7. "Go Your Own Way" (originally by Fleetwood Mac) - Michele puts a feminine twist on this standard, and brings her A-game, as usual. Changing genders is a fairly standard way to vary up a cover, but it's excellent all the same.
8. "Don't Stop" (originally by Fleetwood Mac) - a group number, which has become increasingly rare, featuring Cory Monteith (Finn), Chord Overstreet (Sam), Agron, and Michele. Serviceable, but the least of the Fleetwood Mac songs included in the episode (including Kevin McHale's cover of "Never Going Back Again, which was widely acclaimed but isn't included here).
9. "Rolling in the Deep" (originally by Adele) - the second Adele song, featuring Michele and Jonathan Groff. This is one of the show's more major departures in style, as the song is covered acapella, similar to the cover by John Legend. Distinct and interesting for that reason. And Groff and Michele have strong vocal chemistry.
10. "Isn't She Lovely" (originally by Stevie Wonder) - McHale (Artie) does a fairly straight cover of Wonder's song.
11. "Dancing Queen" (originally by ABBA) - ah, ABBA, you and "Glee" meet at last. Rivera and Riley take the lead on this fun, if, again, fairly standard cover. But I'm a huge fan of both their voices, particularly when they aren't forcing Riley to do a bunch of wholly gratuitous trills and wails...like this next song.
12. "Try A Little Tenderness" (originally by Otis Redding) - this cover embodies everything I like the least about the way the show uses Riley. It's extremely loud and full of runs and wails, and lacking in any tenderness. Riley's talent is best-employed when she's singing lower.
13. "My Man" (most famously covered by Barbra Streisand) - Lea Michele gets to perform her all-time favourite song on the show, and does a fine job.
14. "Pure Imagination" (from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory") - a superb group number featuring Colfer, Monteith, Ushkowitz, and McHale. One of my favourites of the season.
15. "Bella Notte" (originally from "Lady and the Tramp") - okay cover by Mark Salling (Puck), Overstreet and McHale, that is really more significant in that it represents the first authorization to use a Disney song on the show than anything else (please let this signify their catalogue being available for more extensive use next year).
16-18. "As Long As You're There", "Pretending", and "Light Up The World" - I'll just talk about all these together, as they're three further original songs commissioned specifically for the show. There's some novelty factor to these, but it's wearing out, and the new songs are at most competent pop songs. "Light Up The World" is rather on the twee side, and rather overproduced as well. While it was an interesting experiment, I hope the show will avoid these for future competitions and go back to doing stirring reinterpretations of old standards.