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Music Review: Speak of the Devil

Speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear…with the new album Plead the Fifth.

Indeed, the popular Duke men’s a cappella group released their new album this week, and it features ten tracks that highlight their work over the past year. Many of the songs chosen are the year’s top songs, immortalized from the Wednesday night Shooters playlist. Their cover of Taylor Swift’s “Trouble” is a case in point. Despite the cliched nature of these tracks, Speak of the Devil offers a refreshing take on Top 40 hits by artists such as One Direction and Zac Brown Band. Speak of the Devil strips down these hackneyed hits, and emphasizes the strong vocals and harmonies.

“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” is a notable track. Coldplay’s melodies are intended to be clean and rhythmic, and this a cappella format and execution work well. Tyler Pease, the soloist, has an upbeat tenor voice that completely changes the dynamic of the song from Chris Martin’s heartbreaking demeanor to a more vivacious rendition. The song’s backup vocals are en pointe, especially in conjunction with the sharp transitions and crisp vocal percussion, make this cover exceptional.

Another standout on the album was “Mrs. Robinson,” the Simon & Garfunkel hit that defined our parents’ generation. Frank Lee and Jake Toffler, the soloists on this track, were well-chosen and capture the vibe of the song by staying true to the happy-go-lucky attitude of the very film that made the original so famous. Speak of the Devil’s rendition is more uptempo, and there is greater emphasis on the lead vocals. The choice of “Mrs. Robinson” adds more of a classic twist to Plead the Fifth while still fitting in well on the album.

Speak of the Devil includes two medleys on the album, mixes of hits by The Backstreet Boys and The Lonely Island. The Backstreet Boys medley uses five of the band’s songs with various tempos. The piece uses five soloists to evoke the feeling of the nineties boy band that we used to love (and still secretly do) so much. Many of the selected songs seem made for a cappella, and the backup vocals are powerful and on-key.

The Lonely Island medley begins with “I’m on a Boat,” followed by “I Just Had Sex” and “Jack Sparrow,” ending in a creative fusion of the three songs. In my mind, this is the highlight of the album, as the group really captured the silliness and wit of The Lonely Island through the construction of the medley, the five soloists, the upbeat tempo and fluid transitions throughout. What sets the track apart is the way the singers sound professionally produced but still sound as if they are enjoying themselves. Covering a musical group that speaks so much to our generation’s sense of humor was a strong creative choice, counterbalancing some of the album’s seriousness while showing Speak of the Devil’s collaborative strength.


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