So here we are again. But this time, things have changed a tad.
In a way, Round #2 is the most important round in the contest, at least strategically speaking. In Round #1 everyone was flying blind, and your songs have been sorted in a manner that may have surprised you. But now you know your competition, and more importantly you’re able to start profiling your judges. If you got mixed reviews in Round #1, this is an opportunity to target the areas that gave you trouble with us last time. And it’s not a cakewalk for the people who scored highly either - they still need to parse out exactly what they did to get good scores from all of us to make sure they do it again this time (and that’s usually harder because we’re not giving them as many specifics as we would be if we were criticizing).
Last round taught all of you what one can and can’t get away with; even if you disagreed with negative feedback you may have received, paying heed to that feedback is more likely to help your placement than ignoring it. At the end of the day, this is still a *competition*, and you’ve all been exposed to new information that pertains directly to how well you are going to do. So, how did you use this information? That question will be in the back of my mind as I do these reviews.
What I’m looking for in this batch of songs is an unambiguous link to the original. If there’s only one song in the world I think your song could be a sequel to, then you have performed your task perfectly. Lyrics that link the songs are where this challenge will be anchored, but if you chose to match the original song’s musical style in addition, I view that as a huge reinforcement of that link. Suffice to say it will yield major bonus points if you show a bit of your own versatility by choosing to do so. And again, it will likely come down to personal preference.
These reviews may be a bit shorter than last round’s - I was really getting to know you all the first time around, so I dug deep. Now I can say a lot with fewer words, since I have the ability to compare and contrast this entry with your previous work. So let’s get started.
Governing Dynamics - Melt In The Sun (So Many Pretty Ways): This is a very impressive showing. Your guitars are your signature, and you signed the hell out of this song. This is a great example of successfully linking to the original song despite not being done in the exact same style of the original. I will say that it’s definitely in the style of ‘Radiohead’, however, and that might be the smartest way to tackle this challenge. It looks like you brought in a guest vocalist in direct response to what gave you trouble last time, but lo and behold, you didn’t have to after all! Your vocals are much stronger here. Maybe you just needed an energetic song to coerce yourself to sing out where your voice works better. Your lyrics are evocative of the original while being expertly written, and this song has a great hook! You gave us everything we asked for.
Danny Blackwell - Like A Family: You have done two things very well here; you linked to the original not only with heavy use of key phrases, but you also captured an affectation of the Spice Girls in your lyrics; these feel like lyrics they could have written. You’re still keeping comfy in your own musical style, which actually works as it sets up your character as the quiet, mature male companion to the loud, brash Spice Girl counterpart. I don’t know how to feel about your vocals on the last line; it bothers me a little bit to hear, but I understand that you’re just goofing off.... I just don’t know how I feel about your goofing off.
Ryan Ruff Smith - Baby, We’re Through: There’s nothing wrong here. Nothing at all. The guitar lead adds a nice Gary Puckett flavor to the rest of the song’s stylings, and once again, your lyrics are peppered with great imagery. Everything here hearkens back to the Shirelles. Keep up the awesome work.
Common Lisp - Science (In The Service of Beauty): Boy oh boy, this was a challenge to undertake. This is a faithful tribute in addition to being a sequel, but there’s something working against you: the original is so incredibly catchy that all I can do is think of this song as less catchy than the original. But you’ve got some terrific ingredients here. You have a good melody and a great limericky batch of lyrics. One problem, or maybe two directly-related problems: the spoken word delivery has a bit of a clunky cadence and inflection to it. I think this song wants to be a good 15-20 bpm faster, and I bet if you sped it up, all the problems would disappear. The monologue would bounce better, and the added energy to the melody would make it instantly more catchy. After I finish writing these reviews, I’m gonna try a little experiment (hah hah) on this song and see if I’m right.
Inverse T. Clown - Hey, Jessie: Nothing sells crazy better than singing about disturbing topics over bouncy, happy music. This is another fun piece, but I feel like it’s a step backward in comparison to your last song; your vocals are sitting back more and the music is a little more chintzy. I liked the cut-time instrumental break; it was definitely needed to reset my ears. My favorite parts would have to be when you started acting out your character through your voice. I think that’s the ticket for you; it served you well last song, and especially if you’re going to keep singing over music that has minimal dynamic range, you need to oversell your vocals. They sound really good when you do it that way. You might want to dabble in harmonies, as well.
Mitchell Adam Johnson - When Donna Came back: You switched up vocalists and musical styles for this one, but your production is the same as last time, which is to say it’s superb. This song has one of my favorite melodies of the round. It’s impossible not to compare your song and Ryan Ruff Smith’s directly against each other, and while his is a picture-perfect translation of the sound of his original, you have overshadowed Ritchie Valens with yours. I’m not yet sure which of you will fare better, but you’re both fighting in very close-quarters.
Ben Walker - When I’m A Hundred And Two: Oh, Ben. What a shame this is. The best song of the round did not meet requirements. There’s no point in scolding you, so I’m just going to say this: I don’t wish that you read the challenge more carefully, I wish we had picked a different cutoff number. Had you discovered your error earlier in the week and chosen a different song to cover, then *this* song would never have been written. As sad as I am to put it at the bottom of the list, I am simply glad that it exists. Ben, please continue to participate here. If you don’t deliver a shadow entry next round, I’m going to bother you constantly on twitter. Forever.
Edric Haleen - O! Say Can You See?: This is brilliant. The piano and vocals here are gorgeously theatrical and flawless. This song hit my emotional sweet spot like Zarni’s did last round. It’s a swell of hopefulness and patriotism that matches the U.S. national anthem on every aspect. An unexpected take on the challenge; very well played, sir.
Charlie McCarron - Over The Bridge: This is my favorite musical performance of the round. The intro guitar segment and the driving bass guitar just scream RHCP, neither of which are easy things to accomplish without directly plagiarizing. You stayed -barely- on this side of that line, which is to say it’s distinguishable from the original, but it wears the similarity with pride. There’s a slight difficulty I’m having with your lyrics. They’re beautiful poetry, but this almost feels like a retelling of the original song, if not even a prequel to it. It won’t hurt your rank because I like the song so much, but I just felt the need to point it out.
Zarni De Wet - Stacy’s Dad: Is this a sequel? While it’s not clear that there’s a passage of time between the original and this song, the challenge states “A song that picks up where another famous song left off”, and that’s all. This could just as easily be interpreted as the next movement in a song about Stacy’s family. Yes, it’d have been less of a question if the song was about Stacy growing up and finally becoming the object of attention, but I think what’s been done here is fine. And what’s been done here is a nice little pop song. You swapped your powerful singing voice for one a little more adolescent and wispy this time around, and I’m not sure it worked to your advantage; while this style might be more ‘pop’ friendly, I miss your grown-up voice. I do like the fuller arrangement, though. All in all, it’s a good take on the original song, but I can’t shake the feeling that it needs a little something. I think if you nixed the synth strings in favor of a proper drum track, it would have make a world of difference here, actually.
Duality - Mars Ain’t The Kind Of Place: This is your round #1 song *and* your round #2 song, for the price of one! Once more we have a beautifully sung, sleepy ballad. But it sounds like you’re burying the rocket man, not sending him home. I went back and forth between thinking “okay, this song was appropriately somber for a man at the end of his journey,” and “these guys missed a huge opportunity to write a sequel that really connected with the original.” We already know you can write a sleepy ballad. You have all the proper ingredients: great vocals and excellent pianos, and from your shadow songs we know you can deliver harmonies, energy, and catchy hooks... all things ‘Rocket Man’ is rich in, and all things you seem to be deliberately avoiding in your official entries. For this round, that’s working to your detriment.
Brian Gray - One More Cloud: A serious song from a funnyman? A surprising departure from last time, you’ve got a plaintive and heartbroken followup to a song that never would’ve suggested this kind of conclusion to me.... but now that you’ve pointed it out, I see all the pieces are there. Your lyrics made a strong thematic attachment to the original but you used your music to coax it into this new emotional space of burying a lost loved one. I had to listen a few times to really notice it, but this is a very good answer to the challenge.
Ross Durand - Folsom Breakout Blues: I don’t mean to cheat you out of a personalized review, but I’m just going to borrow a phrase from above - there’s nothing wrong here. Nothing at all. Everything about this song is Johnny Cash perfection. Every lyric seems to be an inversion of a line from the original - great way to turn the tables on the song. You added a nice dash of harmonies, too; that puts this way up there for me.
Steve Durand - Miranda: I love those horns! This is a terrific treatment and a wonderful reply to the original song; this just fits in lockstep with the original with its poetry, its mood, and your harmony vocals on the chorus. A lot of people have been choosing original songs that require them to do well with what they’re already good at; so far you seem to be able to slip seamlessly from one task to the other and really change things up in the process. This is a very impressive submission.
Gweebol - Thank You Mr. Postman: Wow, you had a lot of fun with this one. You really belted those vocals out this time, and the tune just builds up so nicely. In a weird way, it feels like a modernization of the style, while still conforming to the original style.... I’m not sure that makes any sense, but whatever I’m hearing, I like it. This song is just dense with content, and as such it feels longer than it is, but it’s enjoyable the whole way through.
Rebecca Brickley - Elderly Dream: Every round there seems to be a place where I have to make an exception to my rules. This song of yours is my top example of how to write a clear sequel without borrowing from the original. This song is so clearly yours, and yet it’s as tied as it can be to Katy Perry’s original. I say “tied as it can be” because the original is really a bit of a prototype of a song; it’s not too specific itself, so it’s hard to forge any stronger of a connection than you have. Interestingly enough, that might allow this to be the only song that could successfully work as its own original. You have an excellent melody and a great voice to sing it with... this song happens to fit the challenge, but to me this is just a great Rebecca Brickley song.
Chris Cogott - Roadward Bound: Simply stunning. This is better Simon & Garfunkel than even they have done in some instances. You impressed me with your song last time, but this just... it makes my jaw drop. You seem to be fluent no matter what your task. I’m envious of your harmonies. The guitar interplay is gorgeous. You earn my top honors this round.
Duality - Today: I so desperately wish I could rank this as your official entry; it’s a much better song for the contest. The lyrics are very engaging and you have an excellent chorus. This song thrives on its wonderful vocal performances, and the guitars sound really good - nice change of pace from the last song.
Danny Blackwell - La Reina: I so desperately wish I could rank this as your official entry! I loved every minute of this one! I liked your other song, but I like this one just a tad more. I understand if you were hesitant to submit this one because of the Spanish segment, but man... that sounded so good! And the “Key change” joke landed for me where the Spice Girls “oowoooOOOOOoowooo” rubbed me the wrong way in your other song. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. This is and “woodsetts” are my favorite songs of yours.
David Ritter - Cage of Love: Yep. You nailed it. Sting is a creepy creepy horrible person. I love this flavor of pop-rock that you’ve been bringing us, and I have to compliment you like I did Rebecca - you definitely made this song yours; I think you lifted just the right amount from the original to make the song work well. Great song; looking forward to the next one!
JoAnn Abbott - Georgia Morning: You’re continuing to step up your game here! The full accompaniment makes a difference, but ultimately the harmony vocals are what differentiate this song from your previous entries. You have a knack for writing good story songs, and this one, while about a rather unpleasant circumstance, is well-written as always. Caleb and Graham, thanks to you both for pitching in on JoAnn’s song; fine work all around, guys :)
RANKINGS (points awarded / artist. First position is “first place”)
17 - Chris Cogott
16 - Ross Durand
15 - Governing Dynamics
14 - Edric Haleen
13 - Rebecca Brickley
12 - Mitchell Adam Johnson
11 - Ryan Ruff Smith
10 - Gweebol
9 - Steve Durand
8 - Brian Gray
7 - Charlie McCarron
6 - Zarni De Wet
5 - Common Lisp
4 - Danny Blackwell
3 - Inverse T. Clown
2 - Duality
1 - Ben Walker