Here, in two instalments, are most of the songs featured on Season 1, Part 1 of Fox’s hit high-school comedy-musical-drama series Glee. The show is one of the best recent American imports to hit our screens, winningly combining soap-opera storylines, lovable characters, brutal wit, and at least two shop-stopping musical numbers per episode. Glee-mania has reached fever pitch in the US, and appears to be heading in that direction here. But let’s set aside the hyperbole: do the songs work in isolation, or is this just a quick-turnaround nostalgia exercise for hardcore fans?
Of course, dyed-in-the-wool Gleeks will have already downloaded all of these songs the second they aired. In fact, they’re probably all in their basements perfecting the dance moves to Beyoncé‘s Single Ladies right now. So, for the rest of the audience, let’s examine what happens when the songs from the show are yanked sharply from their visual and narrative context.
Glee 1 collects many of the best moments from episodes 1-8, and throughout there’s a sense that everything is in its right place. It’s effectively the karaoke version of the Great American Songbook, weaving together show tunes, ballads, pop, soft rock and rap in a lovable, show-choir, tits-‘n’-teeth kinda way.
Rachael, the strongest and most Broadway-oriented voice on the show, carries much of it – either solo (Rihanna‘s Take A Bow) or via duets with other characters (Jordin Sparks‘ No Air, Defying Gravity from Wicked). As well as yoking the album together into a coherent whole, her seasoned-pro voice helps patch up some of the evident chinks in the armour of her co-stars, notably Finn. He may be pretty to look at, and his endearing dopiness is undoubtedly one of the best things about the series – but stripped of visual context and characterisation, his thin vocals are frankly a little embarrassing.
Teacher Will raps his way marvellously through Kanye West‘s Gold Digger and Young MC‘s Bust A Move, which are almost as much fun as they are on the show. And Mercedes’ renditions of Jazmine Sullivan‘s Bust Your Windows and Jill Scott‘s Hate On Me are top-notch covers, no matter whether they were featured on Glee or not.
Plenty of frothy exuberance is delivered by the supporting cast via well-loved standards by Queen, The Supremes and Neil Diamond: versions which are unlikely to win any Grammies but are nonetheless perfectly acceptable for singing along to in the car. And of course Glee has elevated Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ to standard status amongst those of us who missed it (or ignored it) first time round.
If Glee 1 holds its own as an album, listening to Glee 2 inspires the feeling that something is sorely lacking: namely, the characters and plotlines of the show that spawned it. Culled from episodes 9-13, it’s very much a second pressing, leaning heavily on slushy, predictable ballads and tepid singalongs. Finn takes the lead more often than is strictly necessary, most evidently on the appalling version of the already appalling Paul Anka song (You’re) Having My Baby.
Will treads water on a queasy version of Lionel Richie‘s Endless love and the uninspiring crypto-paedo mash-up of Don’t Stand So Close To Me and Young Girl. And Mercedes descends into Whitney Houston histrionics on Jennifer Holliday‘s And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going. None of which caused problems as they drove the narrative forward on the show – but devoid of that context, they’re highly skippable.
Of course there’s much that’s delightful about Glee that a soundtrack could never capture – any input from the decidedly non-musical villain Sue Sylvester, for example. But there’s much that’s missing that technically could have been featured on these two discs. Rehab, Mercy, Push It, Last Name, Halo / Walking On Sunshine, and It’s My Life / Confessions, for example. Presumably the lawyers are to blame, for there’s no other reason to omit these defining moments.
There’s much enjoyment to be had here, but ultimately Glee is a self-contained TV show rather than a springboard for standalone recordings. Listening to Glee 1 is a great way for fans to manage their addiction between episodes, but the diminishing returns of the second cut make it suitable for hopeless Glee junkies only.