Your browser does not support our new site design, so some things might not display or function properly.
We suggest upgrading to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9+ for the optimal experience.

Fifth Element

University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

Neon (2017)

3.7

January 26, 2018

Tuning / Blend 3.3
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 3.7
Tracks
1 I Believe In a Thing Called Love 4.0
2 Come On Eileen 3.7
3 Never Gonna Give You Up 4.0
4 The Cure Medley 3.0
5 You Can Call Me Al 3.3
6 Open Arms 3.3
7 Hip To Be Square 4.0
8 99 Red Balloons 4.3

Recorded 2016
Total time: 29:41, 8 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 I Believe In a Thing Called Love 3
2 Come On Eileen 3
3 Never Gonna Give You Up 4
4 The Cure Medley 3
5 You Can Call Me Al 3
6 Open Arms 2
7 Hip To Be Square 3
8 99 Red Balloons 3

An album with your favorite '80s jams. We've all bought releases because the track list is red hot, and retro-driven Neon definitely checks off this prerequisite. Add Fifth Element's power-tenor section and playful theatrical leads, and you'll be surprised how quickly Neon buzzes on and illuminates eight tracks before the little ball chain turns out the light again.

Upon your second listen, though, the nostalgia effect won't be as enchanting. Start each track and listen for a few measures. Hear how many have the same simple, uniform, pounding drum pattern hitting on 2 and 4, with only You Can Call Me Al starting to explore the more complex rhythms that the '80s laid out for us. Remember the recording decade that created drum patterns with equal parts synths, wild sticks, and a lot of embellishment effects to the standard drum kit? We're missing too much of that token sound on Neon. You'll also hear eight songs that don't offer strong enough musicality variance. Most of these tunes are sung at the same forte dynamic level, and have absent or light phrasing. This makes the ballad (Open Arms) a particularly tough sell because the desperation that created this song in the first place can't be delivered on a single output level. I like the timbre of the individual voices in this group, particularly those power-tenors who sound like they were plucked right from the '80s and asked to infuse personality and wailing energy into Neon (you can almost see them singing when they're fired up), but whether it's a weakness in ensemble work or a miss in the production, the only emotion allowed into this soundscape is joy. (And thank goodness Fifth Element captured that on its '80s release or we'd have a new set of issues, but still ... the absence of everything else is heard, too.)

What works here with all-around success is Never Gonna Give You Up. Zac Plein's swagger-delivery on the solo microphone is so compatible with the lively bass-driven arrangement and spirit of the original. All of the parts are interesting to listen to. All of the voices make their own party. It's just a great time.

Neon delivers its feel-good intent. More sophistication on the drums and a lot more push and pull in the vocal lines could have made this work top-shelf.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 I Believe In a Thing Called Love 4
2 Come On Eileen 4
3 Never Gonna Give You Up 5
4 The Cure Medley 3
5 You Can Call Me Al 4
6 Open Arms 4
7 Hip To Be Square 4
8 99 Red Balloons 5

This album is just fun. With a very 1980s track listing, the men of Fifth Element go back to the good old days of bold colors and big hair with Neon.

The best part of this entire album is the groove. Consider Never Gonna Give You Up. The bass vocalist deserves the MVP award for this track. The flurry of syllables within the bass part is almost overwhelming, but it's incredibly satisfying. The offbeat pattern in the bridge is a perfect change of pace. Zachary Moore arranged an amazing pulse to permeate throughout the entire track. The other backing tracks work well to put the soloist in the best place to succeed. Zac Plein is no Rick Astley, but his voice fits so perfectly throughout the track. The shift to a lower voice is a great way to put a new spin on an old classic.

If there's one issue with this album, it's that the album just feels overproduced. It's most noticeable in the percussion. Within You Can Call Me Al, there are a large number of moments where the percussion switches to "doo"-based drum sounds. In these moments, the drums drastically switch from sounds almost too perfectly uniform to the point of sounding emulated electronically, to very obviously human-sounding. The same idea occurs during the bridge of Hip To Be Square, where around the 1:30 mark, it sounds like the percussionist got too close to the mic and got muffled. While it can be argued that the production enhances the overall quality of the album, these little falters lead me to question the extent to which production was involved. The moments of humanity through unique voices (or errors) usually helps make a beautiful tapestry of sound as a group. However, when overproduced, these moments spotlighting the unique voices in a uniform sound become tears in the fabric.

Overall, due to my production concerns, this album leaves me content, yet curious. Am I really listening to Fifth Element? If I am, they're an incredibly fun group with a great sound and I'll happily plan a road trip to the other side of my state just to see this group perform. But if the production has as much of an effect on the finished product as I fear, I think I'll take the album as it stands and nothing more. If you want a more organic-sounding album, you might want to look elsewhere. If you love that digital sound and need a good throwback, give Neon a listen and you just might be pleasantly surprised.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 I Believe In a Thing Called Love 5
2 Come On Eileen 4
3 Never Gonna Give You Up 3
4 The Cure Medley 3
5 You Can Call Me Al 3
6 Open Arms 4
7 Hip To Be Square 5
8 99 Red Balloons 5

Fifth Element from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire blows me away from the first note of Neon. As one would expect from the album artwork, the theme is mostly '80s songs with the exception of the first track (I Believe In a Thing Called Love) which is the most recent song in the album.

I Believe In a Thing Called Love sets the mood for energy-infused performances. I don't mind the silly usage of "jah jaht jah jin jah dah" as I believe it helps in the emphasis of the contrapuntal beats of the other voice sections. Next, the '80s theme kicks in with Come On Eileen. This time the group's performance seems to slope down to a different level and quality. For those familiar with the Dexys Midnight Runners' original, the tempo changes in Fifth Element's version are not pronounced enough. Never Gonna Give You Up transposed a few semitones lower causes the song to sound muddy and busy on the lower voice sections. Zac Plein, however, executes his solo line quite comfortably but the sacrifice goes to the overall sound of the arrangement.

The group seems to redeem itself again with The Cure Medley onwards. Seth K. Hale and Lucas Jordan deserve recognition as they partner well as vp and bass in setting the beat and anchoring the tracks. You Can Call me Al, I Believe In a Thing Called Love, and 99 Red Balloons is where this vp and bass partnership is impressive and clearly audible.

The arrangements on this album are a collection of hits and misses. The burden generally falls on the singers executing the idea of the arrangers. As an example, Open Arms would have sounded much better if Barry Bakunowicz delivered his solo line savoring the lyrics in a wave-like manner from a slow to a majestic moving chorus. Hip To Be Square is an example of an arrangement that is well-performed since it only requires the right amount of performance energy to be successful, which Fifth Element is quite good at.

Overall, Neon is a good mix of what the group is capable of delivering. I will definitely look forward to Fifth Element's next album. For now, some tracks on Neon will go to my list of favorites.


How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please email us with your name, group name and album title. You will receive a response with information on how to register your album in our system.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

×

Ordering Information

To purchase this album, visit the group's web site.

×