In my review of the first installment of the Glee musical anthology I anticipated excitement for the Gleeks cover of the smash Kelly Clarkson hit “My Life Would Suck Without You” and why wouldn’t I? The cast did such a great job demonstrating their ability to take a gargantuan and massive pop song and make it soar, as they did with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Heart’s “Alone”. So I was sadly disappointed when the Clarkson cover ended up sounding something more along the lines of a Kid’s Bop album (granted, the handles of Kid’s Bop would give the song a new title something along the lines of “My Life Would Be Unfortunate Without You”). The various backing vocals, barely-there guitar, and absence of Lea Michele really belting it makes for little fun, and if a soundtrack to a show as wildly obnoxious as Glee isn’t fun, what’s the point?
The biggest problem with the first soundtrack was the Gleeks’ need to be taken serious, and it’s that same desire that kills the momentum of the second volume. What the cast needs is a good Bon Jovi cover; instead they turn in butchered covers of “True Colors”, “Imagine”, and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” which almost gives Britney Spears a run for worst Stones cover in recent memory. What does work though - and it proves when the cast drops the pretense and just sings, they rarely fail – is their cover of Van Halen’s “Jump”. It doesn’t take much context or real insight to sing a song like “Jump”, but it does take a good set of pipes and Lea Michele has a well-trained arsenal in those lungs of hers.
The attempt to cover artists like Jill Scott was a major flaw of the first album, and the cast’s go at “Proud Mary” does little service to the original version or the fierce Tina Turner cover. And it’s not because Amber Riley can’t sing, as the young songbird actually displays some genuine soul; however, the cheesy backing vocals, forced brass section, and predictable stop-and-start tempo hinder Riley’s would-be Turner impersonation. The loud production also kills Riley’s “Don’t Make Me Over”, which would almost be successful if not for the fact that the string section has been forced to maximum volume, as if to use a production gimmick to try to convince the listener that this cover is “soulful”.
That’s not to say the Gleeks lack a real sense of humor. Just when you’re ready to groan at the Charlie Chaplin cover (which is complimented by a Lily Allen cover of the same name that fairs much better), the cast bust out “(You’re) Having My Baby”. Not since the Journey cover had the Gleeks took their sense of self-awareness and ran with it. When Cory Monteith belts out a line like “The seed inside you baby/Do you feel it growing” behind a wall of woodwinds made of complete cheese, it’s like the cast is daring you not to laugh. And is there not a better song for a group of singing misfits than “Lean On Me”? The cast is in on the joke, in fact, they’re telling the joke, and if you don’t laugh, they’ll laugh at you. It’s a shame the rest of the album lacks this keen sense of self-awareness and self-deprecation that could lift a soundtrack into something more substantive.
Volume Two isn’t lucky enough to boast a song like “Don’t Stop Believing” though it’s not a complete failure—just more of a disappointment. If the Gleeks would drop the act of trying to be serious and just go dumpster diving in the back of a karaoke bar things would get much better. Still, there’s plenty of reason to be excited for Volume Three and with the recent announcements of the Golden Globe nominations for the show, one can only expect the flamboyant show to become even more subversive. Who knows, next time we may get something akin to a Zeppelin cover. I wouldn’t put it past the Gleeks.