Here is my take on the tracks from Pentatonix’s eponymous album, particularly their quality and radio-worthiness. I have already previously written about “Can’t Sleep Love” (track 2), “Sing” (track 3), “Cheerleader” and “Where Are Ü Now”
“Na Na Na”. As Avi and Kevin acknowledged, they were inspired by the Bangles’ 1986 smash “Walk Like an Egyptian”, and it makes for a peppy opening for the album. Mitch’s lead is particularly very slinky in this number.
“Misbehavin'”. In song previews, most people will assume the song is a conventional doo-wop number that evokes Ben E. King’s classic “Stand By Me”. It might sound old-fashioned, but if you listen to the full track, Kevin provided contemporary beats after the first verse. It makes it actually another radio possibility. The song’s sentiments about life on the road touring made me think that this could easily segue into ABBA’s 1980 song “Super Trouper”–it makes thematic sense since the song employs the same lyrical themes, and could be a fun multi-generational mashup.
“Ref”. Many music critics found this the highlight of the album, especially with the edgy synth-like sounds generated by Avi and Kevin. It’s indeed an impressive sassy, edgy highlight, though I personally l connected better with other songs than this.
“First Things First”. This tune is squarely in the R&B pocket, and it fits current radio trends. Another possible single you can consider servicing to radio.
“Rose Gold”. Many Pentaholics fell in love with this tune as it was previewed in the On My Home documentary. But as nice as the echo-ey “aw-aw-aw” harmonies are, and how it resembles like Pitch Perfect 2‘s “Flashlight”, well, I fret that as nice as that Jessie J single was, it didn’t really click with the American public. It’s a good ballad, though.
“If I Ever Fall In Love” (with Jason DeRulo). When this song was previewed, I was disappointed why they resorted to a remake, and the preview portion seemed to indicate that they didn’t even put a twist to Shai’s 1992 original smash (stuck at No. 2 because of the unstoppable Whitney Houston juggernaut from The Bodyguard, “I Will Always Love You”). I also thought, if they need a boost from an established superstar, they could’ve used him on another original song instead of a remake. Listening to the full track, it turns out after the first verse and chorus, there are indeed wonderful twists employed with Kevin’s jazzy beats making it more than worthwhile. A little trivia about the Shai original–the main music video actually had these beats and instrumental that albeit minimalist, didn’t put the song in the best light. Radio actually played the a cappella version more often, and that was what most audiences like myself remember–who says radio can’t play a cappella? If they used to do it with Shai and Boyz II Men over 20 years ago, it’s time to also play a hell lot more Pentatonix! If Shai wants to try featuring instrumentals on their song again, maybe they should consider the beats Kevin used…
“Cracked.” The intro reminded a bit of the Animals’ classic “House of the Rising Sun” mashed up with Pentatonix’s own “Hey Momma/Hit the Road Jack”. It has that ominous, almost gospel-ly tone that is mixed with a ferocious, danceable beat. They have been performing this live in various TV appearances, so I hope this also could get a radio push.
“Water.” We barely hear a lead vocal from Kirstin throughout this album (with the exception of a brief passage on “Ref”), but at least we get this song. It’s not “radio-friendly” but it’s a beautiful “deep cut” co-written by Kirstin, Kevin, and Audra Mae. I can imagine this mashed up with Stevie Wonder’s 1986 single “Overjoyed”.
“Take Me Home”. Though the opening lines melodically remind me of Toto’s “Africa”, this track is the most resolutely “a cappella”-sounding track in this album as with the exception of finger snaps there is barely any percussion sounds to this song. It’s not “single-worthy”, but a great “deep cut”.
“New Year’s Day”. The song has an anthemic feel, which is fitting as it’s about looking forward to new beginnings. I wish they push this song just in time for the year-end, or it can be a fitting anthem post Holiday. How about a push for this tune on the radio?
“Light In The Hallway”. Scott wrote this about his nephew, but he entrusted the vocal duties to Avi, who delivered the appropriate solemnity evoked by the song. Another worthy “deep cut”.
“Lean On”. It’s a great cover by this group, as usual, of Major Lazer & DJ Snake (featuring Mø)’s smash hit. They converted the synth lines into harmonic “eh-oh” vocal that is as hooky as the original.
“To The RIver”. This song is exclusive to those who purchased the album through Target. I just wonder why this is relegated to a bonus track as it’s a modern pop number that seems more “single-worthy” than, say, “Light in the Hallway” or “Take Me Home”? A worthwhile listen.
Overall, I do think Pentatonix fielded a strong set of originals, and I do believe they got what it takes to have that non-holiday radio breakthrough–I have my bets on “Misbehavin'”, “New Year’s Day”, “Cracked”, and maybe even “First Things First” or “Ref”.