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Tangled Up In Blue

University of Wisconsin - Madison

The Mixtape (2012)


February 22, 2013

Tuning / Blend 3.3
Energy / Intensity 2.0
Innovation / Creativity 2.3
Soloists 2.3
Sound / Production 2.3
Repeat Listenability 1.7
1 Hurt So Bad 3.0
2 Will You Be There 2.3
3 Undo It 2.0
4 Rolling in the Deep 2.7
5 Already Gone/Halo 3.0
6 The Chain 2.7
7 Dream On 1.7
8 Fred Jones Part II 2.7
9 Earth 3.3
10 Love Will Keep Us Together 2.3
11 Shark in the Water 2.0
12 Heartbreaker 2.0
13 King of Anything 3.0

Recorded 2010 – 2011
Total time: 41:00, 13 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Hurt So Bad 4
2 Will You Be There 2
3 Undo It 2
4 Rolling in the Deep 3
5 Already Gone/Halo 4
6 The Chain 3
7 Dream On 2
8 Fred Jones Part II 3
9 Earth 3
10 Love Will Keep Us Together 3
11 Shark in the Water 2
12 Heartbreaker 2
13 King of Anything 3

The Mixtape by the ladies of Tangled Up in Blue from the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a mixed bag to say the least. On one hand, it's really good to hear some crisp unadorned singing. On the other hand, it's not so good to hear it delivered in so lifeless of a manner as presented on this album. Like the television theme song said: "You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both and there you have ..." an album that I'm giving a "2".

What's good is the aforementioned unadorned singing. Because the production is minimal, I truly believe every note these women are singing can be reproduced live. And that's mostly a good thing. Overall, they have a good blend, with some nicely aligned intonation in the upper voices and a solid foundation in the bottom. This ability serves them well on the more lilting ballads like The Chain, Earth, and Fred Jones Part II.

I'd never heard the Kina original before for Hurt So Bad, but here it has a very earthy quality that is quite captivating as an initial track. I'm a sucker for parallels and even though this one is completely expected (opening with a single rhythmic voice and ending with that same singularity), I fell for it. Deeply. I will say that the alto should have extended her section for a few more measures because the song ends a bit abruptly, but I'm still enjoying the song. And even though it was the it arrangement for a women's group to do, because of the aforementioned pared down production, this version of Already Gone/Halo exposes the lunacy of selling one song to two divas. The resultant layering is ridiculous. AND I LOVE IT.

What I don't love is the sheer lack of energy throughout the disc. It is just non-existent. Maybe they have fun singing together, but you'd never guess it from the lack of emotion exhibited. There aren't enough adjectives to describe what it is like to listen to some talented women sing like they seemingly don't give a damn. Songs that are supposed to be rocking (Dream On and Heartbreaker) or passionate (Rolling in the Deep) or driving (Undo It and Shark in the Water) are not. Just are not. And that's a shame — and also very frustrating and maddening in the case of a Dream On that offers no shrieking soloist wailing on the upper notes. Everything sounds just so, well, collegiate instead of artistic. 

Tangled Up in Blue has some strong fundamentals in musicianship. To reach the next level, they need to develop a stronger performance aesthetic, and develop excitement in the block and emotion in the soloists. Partner that with some 21st century production values and the group would be on its way to having a solid album instead of a mediocre mixtape. 

Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 1
Innovation / Creativity 1
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
1 Hurt So Bad 2
2 Will You Be There 2
3 Undo It 1
4 Rolling in the Deep 1
5 Already Gone/Halo 2
6 The Chain 1
7 Dream On 1
8 Fred Jones Part II 2
9 Earth 3
10 Love Will Keep Us Together 1
11 Shark in the Water 2
12 Heartbreaker 1
13 King of Anything 2

You wouldn't know it by listening to this album, but most of these songs are really good when performed by their original artists.

I looked up the review of Tangled Up In Blue's earlier album The Blue Book and found that most of the problems with their latest album are not new and were addressed in some detail by Joseph Bates in 2008. He described them in the same way I had already written — these singers sound bored. More than that, songs have no arc and the character and style of the original songs have been ignored. While problems with voice leading have been addressed, not all the changes are for the better. Bates wrote that The Blue Book has a problem with over-turning, but using no auto-tuning on their latest album without improving the intonation is the greater of two evils.

Everything I like about the original Undo It is gone. The performance of this sassy/angry Carrie Underwood song is lifeless. Structurally, the most important element of Undo It is the contrast between the acoustic feel in the verses and the fuller sound of the choruses, with acoustic guitars becoming electric and the addition of organ. But Tangled Up In Blue's version has no arc. The chorus, rather than adding new layers and upping the dynamic level, scales back dynamically and in complexity. There are also several chords missing important pitches including one "chord" that drops both the 3rd and the 5th.

This album has significant intonation problems throughout, but the most tragic is the Rolling in the Deep solo which makes me physically uncomfortable and the song unlistenable. The album's production also suffers from static that ranges from benign to distracting.

While Already Gone/Halo is made more interesting by the combining of these two songs, the inexplicable interjection of another Carrie Underwood song, Before He Cheats, into the final 45 seconds of Aerosmith's Dream On severely detracts from the track. That these songs have similar chords and tempo is not enough to justify the pairing. The juxtaposition of Aerosmith with a country song about destroying a cheating ex-boyfriend's car is jarring.

Over and over I found myself thinking that I wished I was listening to the original songs. There is nothing novel here, and the execution is not strong either. These are not bad singers, but when your singing in the studio is lifeless, nothing else you do matters much.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Hurt So Bad 3
2 Will You Be There 3
3 Undo It 3
4 Rolling in the Deep 4
5 Already Gone/Halo 3
6 The Chain 4
7 Dream On 2
8 Fred Jones Part II 3
9 Earth 4
10 Love Will Keep Us Together 3
11 Shark in the Water 2
12 Heartbreaker 3
13 King of Anything 4

Sugar, spice, and everything nice. They're what little girls are said to be made of, and they're the three main ingredients in Tangled Up In Blue's The Mixtape. Everything about this album is nice — in some cases, it's a good thing. In others, nice just isn't enough.

No one can argue that the women of TUIB have nice voices. The niceness works in songs like The Chain, which features beautiful light harmonies. Imogen Heap's Earth couldn't achieve its signature ethereal quality without a bit of niceness. The apologetic but firm nature of Already Gone certainly benefits from a nice tone on the part of the singer, too.

But what about a song like Adele's Rolling in the Deep? Suddenly, the phrase "you're gonna wish you never had met me" doesn't sound so convincing. There's an excellent jazziness to Hurt So Bad that could make for a smoking opener if not for the fact that it's just so ... nice. There's nothing wrong with being nice. In fact, I'm a huge advocate of niceness. Mean people suck. Still, nice doesn't win awards or sell albums.

Perhaps the abundant niceness could be overlooked if The Mixtape were just a bit more polished. The rhythm section can make or break a song, and that's where TUIB so often falls short. On most tracks, the vocal percussion and bass sound like an afterthought. It would be unsurprising to learn that four measures of vp were recorded and then looped to fill up each track. Unfortunately, this sometimes bleeds into the arranging. Even the most perfectly tuned "jun jun" can become grating when it's going on for over three minutes with little dynamic shift.

TUIB's Music Director should be praised for cultivating what is often a beautiful, harmonious ensemble sound. To hear these young women apply that sound to more challenging, dynamic arrangements would certainly be something that could take them from cliché to standout.


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