Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Very Much A Novelty, "Once More, With Feeling" Is Hardly Enduring Opera.

The Good: Generally good vocals, Catchy, Kitschy, Duration
The Bad: Overly simple rhymes, A lot is lost without the visuals.
The Basics: A very average album, the soundtrack to "Once More, With Feeling" is creative but ultimately more kitschy than truly musically memorable.

My wife and I are going through the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!) now, in large part to my having gotten her the complete series boxed set for her first birthday we were together. As a result, my mind drifts to all things Buffy a lot more lately and that's fine with me. But one of the things I quickly realized when considering her love of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is how finite the decent swag from the show is. Indeed, she came to the relationship with most of the cool Buffy The Vampire Slayer stuff. Even so, there were some pretty obvious products that capitalized on the immediate popularity of certain things in the Buffyverse and one of them was the soundtrack to the episode "Once More, With Feeling."

"Once More, With Feeling" is a ridiculously popular episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where a demon comes to Sunnydale which compels all under its thrall to sing. As it becomes more of menace, it forces humans to dance until they literally combust. The musical episode featured members of the cast singing their lines and dancing and because it was very original, it became quite popular. Character relationships which were on the rocks in the sixth season revealed how they were falling apart through musical numbers and Buffy's angst was captured in many of her songs. But while there is something intriguing about the actual episode, the soundtrack loses quite a bit without the actual singing and dancing that goes with it and this holds up less well as an audio-only piece.

Filled up to almost the full 85 minute capacity of a compact disc, the "Once More, With Feeling" soundtrack is a collection of all eighteen songs from the popular episode "Once More, With Feeling," plus Joss Whedon's original demo of the song. There are also four orchestral suites from other episodes which were noteworthy and are instantly memorable to the die-hard Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans. All of the songs with lyrics are written by Joss Whedon and he has a fun sense of rhyme that makes most of them catchy, if not enduring in a way that non-fans are likely to respond to. As well, the entire cast of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, plus guest stars like Amber Benson (Tara) provide vocals and make the songs come to life.

Musically, "Once More, With Feeling" is largely a rock opera. Songs like "Rest In Peace" are angst-filled and guitar driven and sound like they could be part of a much bigger production. Conversely, songs like "I'll Never Tell" have a very traditional musical comedy sense of timing and rhyme such that one might imagine Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers performing it. It is lively, swing dancing and that duet between Xander and Anya has a classical sense of musical storytelling which makes Joss Whedon a modern master of recreating a nostalgia for something the current generation never had.

Sure, there are more classic pop numbers, like the ballad Tara sings to Willow ("Under Your Spell") and the opening ditty, "Going Through The Motions" which Sarah Michelle Gellar presents. Most of the songs are guitar or piano driven and they sound either like traditional showtune songs or contemporary pop numbers. Even today, the songs sound fresh and fun. The album is well-produced such that each and every line may be heard clearly.

The end tracks, taken from episodes like "Hush," "Restless," and "The Gift" are more traditional Classical-sounding pieces. Unfortunately for most listeners, they also have a tendency to be incidental music which sweeps up for scary reveals and as such does not hold up quite as well on the album. In other words, they are great accent pieces for the show, but not wonderful standalone songs.

Vocally, the album is a surprisingly tight presentation of actors who, it turns out, can truly sing. James Marsters makes an obvious advertisement for his band when he sings "Rest In Peace" coolly and with flawless tone. Similarly, Anthony Stewart Head is great when he has to sing, as Giles, to Buffy about feeling useless in her life. The real star of thee album, though, is not Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) or even Emma Caufield (Anya), it is Amber Benson. Benson is plays Tara as quiet and mousy and on the "Once More, With Feeling" soundtrack she is able to open up and belt it all out as an incredible soprano. Her costar has only one or two lines on the entire album ("This line is mostly filler" in "Walk Through The Fire"), but Benson dominates with dulcet soprano tones on "Under Your Spell" and her part on "Where Do We Go From Here?"

But for as much praise as I might have for "Once More, With Feeling," the truth is it is an opera soundtrack that makes a lot less sense out of context. Unable to see certain gags, they do not hold their own as well on the album ("Mustard" being a prime example). The "Once More, With Feeling" soundtrack is bound to please fans of the show, but even for them the replayability is finite before the novelty wears off. Ultimately, I opted not to recommend it because the episode retains a special quality that is lost when one simply knows these funny or heartfelt songs by rote.

The best track is "Under Your Spell," the low point is "Broom Dance."

For other soundtrack albums, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
What's Love Got To Do With It? - Tina Turner
VR.5 Soundtrack
Star Trek Soundtrack Volume 1 - "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before"


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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